It was a year of many firsts for the Flintridge Prep varsity girls’ water polo team. The Rebels won their first-ever quarterfinal and semifinal matches to clinch a berth in the CIF Southern Section Division 7 championship match, a feat that had never been accomplished in the program’s history.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, they were denied their first title by No. 1 seed Anaheim Katella, whose stout defense kept Flintridge Prep’s offense at bay for a 5-4 victory at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine last Saturday.
“It’s unfortunate the way it ended, but we could not ask for more,” said head coach Andrew Phillips. “We made it to the CIF finals for the first time ever, finished with a 5-4 game. We fought for the entire game, every possession. … It ended the way it did, but we’re still happy with the result. We wish it would be a win.”
The young Rebels, which include only two seniors, rallied in the final quarter. Trailing 5-2, Paige Nixon sparked some hope by scoring a power play goal with 1:54 remaining in the contest.
No. 3-seeded Flintridge Prep (19-9 overall record) had a big opportunity with 54 seconds remaining but Makena Walklett’s shot hit the side of the net.
Lara Friedman scored with 16 seconds remaining to get the Rebels within one but it was too late as the Knights (22-7 overall) kept possession and held on for their first CIF-SS title.
“I’m just so proud that we got here,” said Nixon. “Obviously, this wasn’t the result we all wanted, but a huge congrats to Katella. They were great and amazing.”
The Rebels were just as stellar in the first quarter, holding Katella scoreless after the eight minutes of play.
“That first quarter was an absolute dog battle,” Phillips said. “A block here, a block there, a steal here, a steal there. I was sweating after the first quarter. I’m so happy and proud of them.”
Neida Torres scored twice in the first three minutes of the second quarter to give the Knights the lead. Berenice Rumbo scored on a 6-on-5 situation right before the end of the half to give Katella a three-goal advantage.
Flintridge Prep was unfazed by the deficit and kept battling. Nixon put the Rebels on the board with 3:44 remaining in the third. Natalie Kaplanian also found the back of the net off a pass from Isabel Simons in the third to make it a 4-2 game.
“We needed to use the clock, we needed to play smart, make smart passes, and [not] try and force anything,” Nixon said. “Just be what we knew we could be. Do what we do in practice and all those tournaments.”
The Rebels kept that composure in the final quarter but struggled to get shots passed goalie Raquel Enriquez.
“She’s really good,” Nixon said. “She’s a great goalie. Obviously we’ve never been here before and it was a little transition point [for us].”
Nixon could not help but think of the future and the potential of the program.
“I’m just proud of where we are as a launching off point for next year and future teams to come.”