As the La Salle College Preparatory varsity girls’ water polo team rode a bus on its way to the program’s first-ever CIF Southern Section championship game, head coach Ian Castillo reminded his squad of the game plan against No. 2-seeded Rancho Mirage.
“We need to set the pace early and start with lots of intensity and let everybody know who we are,” he said.
Team captain Savannah Robles heeded her coach’s call, scoring early and often and propelling the Lancers to a 16-6 victory over the Rattlers in the Division 7 final at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine last Saturday.
“I felt like we can set the pace and I don’t have to rely on anybody else,” said Robles, who scored a game-high nine goals. “I was excited [to take an early lead] but I kept telling the girls that the score doesn’t mean anything.”
Robles scored the first three goals of the match and helped La Salle (13-12 overall record) build a 4-1 lead in the first quarter.
The sophomore standout tallied six goals at the half and received help from her teammates in the final two quarters, which allowed the Lancers to pull away and capture their first water polo championship.
“Everybody got their shooting opportunities,” Castillo said. “They moved the ball around. Even though Savannah is our lead attacker [and] lead scorer, right alongside her, everybody is there giving her an assist or she’s giving them an assist. It couldn’t be more magical than that.”
Isabella Escovar netted five goals, and Amanda Orza and Hailey Patino each scored once. Sofie Wolfe and Robles each recorded two assists and Audrey Turner also assisted a goal. Goalkeeper Monica Villasenor recorded five saves.
La Salle entered the postseason as the fourth-place team from the Prep League and defeated Menifee Heritage, Paramount and El Rancho of Pico Rivera en route to the championship game.
“No one was expecting anything out of us,” said Castillo, who is in his first season at La Salle and had five inexperienced players on his roster. “Throughout CIF, we were the underdog completely. So I told the girls, even if we lose our first game, thank you for taking me to CIF in my first year and taking yourselves to CIF in your first year ever playing. This exceeded every expectation I could have ever imagined. I’m scared I’m going to wake up and be in my bed in 10 minutes.”
La Salle will compete in the CIF State Southern California Division III Regionals this Friday, February 28, at 2 p.m. The Lancers will travel to Santa Ana to take on Birmingham High of Lake Balboa in a first-round match at Segerstrom High School. The semifinal contests are scheduled to be played on Saturday.