The Los Altos High girls water polo team went 0-3 against Mountain View in the regular season, but the Eagles beat the rival Spartans when it mattered most – in the Central Coast Section Division I final.
Second-seeded Los Altos held on for a 9-8 win over No. 1 Mountain View Saturday morning at Independence High, where both teams sought their first CCS title.
“We knew we could hang with Mountain View, 100 percent, but we never put together a full game of water polo against them,” said senior Julia Santos, who led the Eagles with four goals. “Today, we definitely did that.”
Los Altos coach Katie Tasman said it was “by far the best game we’ve played all season.”
The underdog Eagles (14-10) never trailed Saturday. They led by as many as three goals in the fourth quarter before the Spartans tied it at 8 on a shot by Malena Nguyen with 3:08 left.
With the momentum shifting and Mountain View’s crowd roaring, Cynthia Yee answered for Los Altos. The junior’s first goal of the day proved to be the game-winner – a long-distance shot with 1:52 to go.
“She has a great arm,” Tasman said. “I think she really found her confidence in the Mitty game we played last week (in the semifinals). Coming into this game, I told her, ‘We’re going to need you here.’ It was really nice to see her accept that role and get that goal for us.”
The Spartans (17-9) got off three more shots, two after timeouts, but couldn’t get any one of them past Los Altos goalie Alex Warren. The junior totaled 11 saves, the last on a long-range shot by junior Maggie Eggleton with just under 30 seconds remaining.
“She is so consistent blocking the ball,” Santos said of her goalie. “She is the one girl who never ever gives up.”
Warren didn’t surrender a goal until the last minute of the first half when the Spartans scored on back-to-back possessions. Nguyen, one-on-one with Warren on a fastbreak, scored with 34 seconds left, and fellow senior Gabriella Matafora-Adams followed with a goal in transition with 2.4 ticks to go. Nguyen and Matafora-Adams finished with a team-high three goals each.
The two late goals allowed Mountain View to cut Los Altos’ lead to 3-2 by intermission.
Santos tallied all three of the Eagles’ first-half goals, starting with her shot 92 seconds into the game.
“I was so hyped up,” she said. “The first goal is when I realized that we totally caught them off guard and now we can keep on going throughout this game and keep on scoring and actually win it. It came more and more true as the game went on.”
The UC Santa Barbara-bound Santos also notched the first goal of the second half. She caught a pass with her back to the Spartans’ goal, whipped around and fired the ball into the net.
“Julia has been the backbone of our team since her freshman year,” Tasman said. “She’s our facilitator out there.”
Sophomore Silke Tuyls scored on Los Altos’ next possession, extending the lead to 5-2 with 4:52 left in the third quarter. Mountain View quickly cut the deficit to one, getting goals from Eggleton and Matafora-Adams during a 33-second stretch midway through the period.
Sophomore Olivia Cairns responded for the Eagles less than a minute later, but the Spartans again made it a one-point game when Nguyen drilled a half-pool shot at the third-quarter buzzer.
Los Altos got the lead back to three goals early in the fourth quarter when senior Brynn Walther and Cairns scored on consecutive possessions, prompting a Mountain View timeout.
The Spartans reacted by scoring three straight goals for the tie, but the Eagles’ defense – and Yee’s clutch shot – stemmed the tide.
“We got down, but the girls fought hard and got back into it,” Mountain View coach Drew Enlow said. “They didn’t give up – they kept playing – but we just came up short.”