Above: Walnut players celebrate with coach Lani Ruh after winning the school’s first water polo title with an 11-6 victory over Los Altos on Saturday.
IRVINE – Los Altos High School and freshman sensation Stephanie Contreras might have a CIF-Southern Section record, but Walnut has something a bit more – a CIF-SS title.
Jacklyn Marriott scored three goals and Alex Escobar and Allie Zell had two each and the Mustangs won the school’s first girls water polo championship with an 11-6 victory over Miramonte League rival Los Altos in the Division 6 final Saturday morning at William Woollett Aquatic Center.
Walnut, also getting eight saves from goalie Allison Hu, finished 25-6. Los Atlos, which received two goals from Stephanie Tuning, finished 24-9. Contreras, who set the CIF-SS record for most goals in the season in Wednesday’s semifinal victory over Chadwick, was held to one goal on nine shots. She finished the season with 188 goals, which eclipsed the previous mark of 183, set by La Salle’s Kara-Leigh Huse in 2008.
“It’s really exciting,” Walnut coach Lani Ruh said. “This is the best any water polo team has done in Walnut history, boys or girls, so it’s really, really exciting.
“The girls worked really hard for this. I’m really proud of them.”
Above: Walnut’s Samantha Lepp celebrats after the Mustangs beat Los Altos, 11-6, to win the school’s first water polo title on Saturday.
Walnut, which won three of four games from Los Altos this year, started fast, taking a 3-0 lead after the first quarter. Escobar, the team’s leading scorer, broke through first, converting a turnover with a drive and shot for a 1-0 lead 29 seconds into the game.
Marriott then made it 2-0 on a rebound follow at 3:06 before taking an inside pass from Kylie Leeper for a 3-0 lead with 21 seconds left in the quarter.
“Everyone was really pumped up to play and ready to go,” Escobar said. “We put it all together.”
Samantha Lepp made it 4-0 early in the second quarter before Los Altos fought back.
The Conquerors, also playing in its first divisional final, were a bit slowed in the first quarter after Contreras was stopped on her first four attempts. They made up for it in the second. Tuning scored from just past the 5-meter mark to make it 4-1 at 5:29 before Contreras dropped in a lob shot to make it 4-2 with 4:03 left in the half.
Summer Millard kept the momentum going with an inside shot to make it 4-3 at 3:23. Stacie Itow, then followed a goal by Zell, with drive and shot at 1:56 to make it 5-4 by halftime.
“It wasn’t so much them taking (Contreras) out of the game,” Los Altos coach Chris Coleman said. “Our shooters just didn’t shoot the ball. We were timid (in the first quarter).
“I’m not saying we did not come to perform, but they did pick on our weakness, and that’s smart coaching. We did rally back and made it 5-4 going into halftime, but we just didn’t finish.”
The Mustangs picked it up at the start of the third quarter, taking a 7-4 lead three minutes into the second half, going up 6-4 on an inside shot by Leeper before Zell beat Los Altos goalie Brittany Machado on the right side for a 7-4 advantage.
The Conquerors had a chance to cut it to 7-5, but Tuning missed high on a penalty shot with 37 seconds left. A 5-meter by Escobar made it 8-4 with 21 seconds remaining in the quarter.
“Our track record has been that we don’t have the best second quarter for some reason,” Ruh said. “Maybe, they start figuring some things about us.
“We forgot ourselves a little bit (during the second quarter), but we were able to pull it back together.”
Zell and Stephanie Tuncel scored in the fourth quarter to push the advantage to 10-5 and seal the deal for Walnut.
“The big difference in the second half is we just relaxed,” Escobar said. “We knew that we were going to win, we deserved to win, so it’s nice to win.
“We worked real hard for this, so it’s really cool to finally win.”
– Steve Ramirez