Polytechnic Erases Deficit to Win 2nd CIF Championship

The Polytechnic varsity girls’ water polo team is no stranger to adversity. The squad opened the season ranked last out of 33 teams in CIF-Southern Section Division 5 and clawed its way to the No. 1 seed in the postseason.
That resiliency was on full display in the CIF-SS Division 5 championship match Saturday with the Panthers overcoming an early three-goal deficit to defeat No. 3-seeded Xavier Prep of Palm Desert, 10-5, at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine on Saturday.
“It feels pretty good,” said Poly senior Colleen Woo, who was also a part of the Panthers’ championship run two years ago. “I feel like our hard work paid off. I’m so proud of everyone.”
The Panthers (24-5 overall record) found themselves in a hole in the first quarter after the Saints (22-8 overall) put away three of their first six shots, but the Poly players never panicked and stuck to the game plan.
“The same thing happened against Santa Ana Valley [in the semifinals],” said Poly head coach Ryan Katsuyama. “ …. I told them as long as we play great defense, we will chip away at this lead, and that’s exactly what we saw. We started pressing and generated steals on the outside that led to offensive opportunities on the other end of the pool.”
Freshman Talie Wilmans put Poly on the board with a quick turnaround shot as time expired in the first quarter, cutting the deficit to 3-1.
“I was just hoping it would go in before the buzzer,” Wilmans said. “I didn’t think I got the shot in time.”
“It was a big momentum shift for us,” Katsuyama said. “Being down 3-0 is a lot tougher than being down 3-1, and it gave us a little bit of hope and more energy. … It got us on the board, and it put us all at ease.”
The goal turned the tide in Poly’s favor, and the Saints settled for outside shots as the Panthers attacked the center. Morgan Shafia received a perfect pass from Wilmans and put the ball into the back of the net for Poly’s second goal with 5:16 remaining in the first half.
Woo found her groove offensively in the third quarter, with two big goals in transition after forcing turnovers that gave the Panthers their first lead of the match.
“Her play on the defensive end of the pool doesn’t get much notice, but she is a fantastic defensive player,” Katsuyama said of Woo. “She is so smart. She can read plays and where the ball goes. She made some great plays that helped kick start our offense.”
Woo assisted two other goals in the quarter, both scored by Wilmans, that extended Poly’s lead to 6-3 late in the third quarter.
The Saints kept fighting and finally got back on the board with two seconds remaining in the third to cut the deficit to two goals.
It was as close as Xavier Prep got down the stretch as the Panthers scored four goals in the final quarter and held off the Saints for the 10-5 victory.
“Pasadena Poly is an extremely good team,” said Xavier Prep head coach Pavol Valovic. “We were fighting. We tried to do everything we could, but they just came out on top. They have very good players and a good coach.”
Wilmans led the Panthers with five goals, and Natalie Clark and Woo added two goals each. Shafia contributed one score, and goalkeeper Kate McInerny recorded 11 saves.
“Kate was great today,” Katsuyama said of his goalie. “She’s been great in this playoff run and was in the right place at the right time in a lot of situations.”
Katsuyama has delivered all three of Polytechnic’s water polo championships in school history. He guided the girls’ team to their first title in 2015 and the boys to a CIF-SS crown in 2012.

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