Above: Los Atlos’ girls water polo player Stephanie Contreras is closing in on the CIF-SS record for most goals in a season. She has 171 coming into Thursday’s CIF-SS playoff game against Valencia of Placentia.
By Steve Ramirez, Staff Writer
HACIENDA HEIGHTS – Freshmen, it’s been said, are to be seen but never heard, and leading is usually definitely out of the question.
Then there’s Los Altos High School’s Stephanie Contreras, who’s proving to be the exception.
She’s not only disputing the adage, she’s blowing it out of the water, scoring 171 goals during the Conquerors water polo team’s first 21 games.
Contreras goes into her team’s CIF-Southern Section playoff opener a mere 12 goals from the CIF-SS single-season record of 183, set by La Salle’s Kara-Leigh Huse in 2008.
“It’s astronomical,” said Los Altos coach Chris Coleman, whose Conquerors (21-8) open the Division 6 playoffs with a home game against Valencia of Placentia at 3:15 p.m. Thursday. “It’s speechless in my mind. There are games when she scores eight, there are games when she scores two. She’s just very consistent.
“She’s only a freshman and she’s only going to get better. I’m excited for her. She will set the record, as long as we keep winning, and then she will always be remembered here. She will be here three more years after that, and we’d like to win CIF one of those years.”
The Conquerors might just do it this year, and Contreras, who also has 50 assists, is a big reason for their success, which saw Los Altos finish second to traditional power Walnut in the Miramonte League and take the No. 4 seed in the playoffs.
The freshman’s strength is both physical and mental. She grew
up in the sport and it shows in the pool, where she’s adept at shooting from almost anywhere in the scoring zone or passing to a teammate.
“Mostly, if you have the shot, you have to take it,” said Contreras, who honed her craft at the City of Commerce water polo club, considered one of the top training grounds in the country. “If you are playing a big game, you don’t want to lose, so you want to do your best and do what you can for the win.
“I don’t think about it too much and try to do what’s best. I’ve been playing for a long time, so I know when it’s the correct time to take a shot, or when I should pass.”
It’s that awareness in the pool that makes her tough to defend and gives Los Altos the advantage on the scoring end, along with other options that include senior Stephanie Tuning, who has 85 goals.
“(Contreras) has the recognition, the game awareness, that instinct,” Coleman said. “In other sports, it’s described as field vision. She has it. She can figure out what’s going to happen next.
“Plus, she’s an all-around player who has 50 assists, too. She just makes everyone around her better. She is the bulk of our offense, but when she’s not scoring, everyone else scores and steps up. She makes everyone better.”
But it’s her ability to score goals at an alarming rate that has Los Altos tabbed as one of the favorites to win the Division 6 title. Contreras is not blind to the record pace.
“When I came here, I pretty much wanted to see how much I could score and beat the record for most goals in a season,” said Contreras, who already has eclipsed the school record. “I want to see what I can do in four years.
“It’s a pretty good accomplishment (to put up these numbers), this being my first year.”
But her main goals are to get victories and make a run at the division title. The Conquerors are living up to her aspirations, and they were helped by a 10-5 victory over Walnut last week.
“(Beating Walnut) was a pretty good win,” Contreras said. “It felt good, especially going into the playoffs. It gives us confidence that we can beat them, especially if we face them in playoffs.
“I want to make it further than (what Los Altos did) last year. I want to show everyone that while we may be the underdogs, we can make it as far as we possibly can.”
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