KINGSBURG — There was the dunking of a coach, a champagne shower of Martinelli’s and a giant plaque that proclaimed Kingsburg as the 2017 CIF Central Section Division III girls water polo champions.
“It’s mind blowing, it’s so crazy. We’ve never won before so it’s like a really cool thing,” an ecstatic Bridgette Garcia said immediately after the game. “Just to think we are the team who’s gotten it first for Kingsburg High. That’s just a cool feeling and we’ll always be remembered, so hopefully we keep this tradition going.”
Garcia, along with her counterpart Sofia Righetti — Kingsburg’s two leading scorers on the year — showed up on the biggest stage on Thursday. They combined for seven goals in the team’s 12-10 victory over Sierra Pacific.
It was a true 1-seed vs. 2-seed matchup with Kingsburg as the 1-seed and Sierra Pacific as the 2-seed.
Kingsburg (20-4, 8-0 CSL) got off to a quick start in the championship game behind a pair of goals from Megan Buendia just over two minutes into the match. They were Buendia’s only goals of the game, but the 2-0 start would be instrumental down the road.
Sierra Pacific (21-8, 8-1 ESL) responded with its own goal, initially stopped by goalkeeper Brighton Kinney, but pushed across the line by another Golden Bear.
Garcia then answered with her first goal of the night and scored again two minutes later. Kingsburg ended the first quarter with a 4-1 lead.
From there on, Sierra Pacific had to play catch-up, but every time their comeback attempts came close, Kingsburg thwarted those efforts with well-timed goals and relentless defense.
Kingsburg was outscored 2-1 in the second quarter and led 5-3 at halftime. The Vikings’ pressure on the ball made it almost impossible for Sierra Pacific to have a look at the cage. Every time the Golden Bears touched the ball someone from Kingsburg was right behind them.
“We were just pressing a lot, holding [Sierra Pacific],” Kingsburg coach Emily Dewey said. “We didn’t even want the passes to be made from their offense.”
Sierra Pacific scored to open the third quarter and trailed by one. Kingsburg ran a perfect out-of-bounds play that led to an easy touch-goal at the front of the net for Righetti. The freshman had four goals on the night.
Kingsburg increased its lead back to three after a missed penalty shot by Sierra Pacific. But Sierra Pacific came back and cut the lead to one entering the fourth quarter.
Leading 8-7 and with the Golden Bears right on their backs, Kingsburg resettled and did what champions do — close out big games.
“We just talked about keeping our head and just focusing on the game,” Garcia said. “We actually did a prayer right before that [fourth quarter] and I think that’s what really helped us pull through.”
Righetti scored on a 6-on-5 advantage and Jessica Burch-Konda scored 30 seconds later to give them the 10-7 lead. Garcia’s third and final goal of the night gave them their largest lead of the game when they led 12-8.
Kinney sealed the game when she blocked a penalty shot from Sierra Pacific with 54 seconds to go and ended their comeback bid. It was just one of her many spectacular blocks on the night.
“At first I was just shocked like, ‘did the buzzer really ring,’” Kinney, a senior, said. “It just all flooded in and everyone was just screaming and it was just the best feeling ever. I just loved it.”
Her efforts coupled with great team-defense kept Kingsburg out in front the entire night and never allowed Sierra Pacific a lead in the game.
Just seconds after the final buzzer sounded, players swam to their corner of the pool and plunged Dewey into the pool. The second-year coach did everything possible to deflect credit away from her and to the players instead.
“Pumped and so excited for my girls, but really it’s not something that I did,” a soaked Dewey said. “It’s the scale and talent that they’ve come in with. It’s the positive team effort that they’ve all put in together.”
Dewey was also thankful for all the help she’s received from boys water polo coach Josh Lee. She credited him for all the work he’s put in and called him, “the man, the myth, the legend.”
“It might say head coach Emily Dewey, but really it’s Josh Lee,” Dewey said. “He has come in and he works with those girls every day at practice. I seriously have the most respect for that man right there.”
Kingsburg’s journey to the title game started with a 19-1 rout of 8-seed Hoover in the quarterfinals after a first-round bye. They dominated in the semifinals as well defeating 3-seed Mission Oak 18-2.
The two-goal victory was their closest win all season long. Their previous closest win was a game against Lemoore in September when the Vikings prevailed 6-3.
“That was one of the best games we’ve played the whole entire season,” Dewey said. “It was not an easy win by any means. That made it fun though. It made the win even better.”