FRESNO — Kingsburg coach Emily Dewey was pushed into the pool for a second year in a row as the Vikings cemented their stellar season with back-to-back CIF Central Section Division III championships.
The game was a rematch of last season’s title game with Kingsburg winning 10-6 and once again defeating Sierra Pacific to retain the D-III crown.
“It’s a feeling of excitement of just pure joy having these girls work hard for over two seasons now,” a soaked Dewey said. “It was exciting just knowing that my girls were able to fight hard again with expectations of we didn’t know what was going to happen, but we had that goal in mind. They’ve been working hard for this since day one this season.”
After graduating five seniors from last season’s championship team, including two of their three top goal scorers, the Vikings weren’t sure if another title was possible.
But when everything was said and done on Saturday at the Fresno State Aquatics Center, the Vikings were posing in front of the yellow Central Section banner with their championship medals and hats.
“We weren’t really expecting to win this year because we lost a couple seniors that were starters, but we pulled through and I’m really proud of my team and I’m happy that we won,” Kingsburg’s Sofia Righetti said.
The top-seeded Vikings (21-9, 4-2 CSL) were balanced on offense and got goals from five different players. They were led by sophomore Shay Hanson, who scored a team-high three goals when she went on her own 3-0 run stretching over the second and third quarters. Righetti, Jillian Gipson and Megan Buendia scored two goals each.
Before the match, Righetti was presented with the CIF Central Section Jim Coiner Sportsmanship Award.
Kingsburg came out firing to start. Jessica Burch-Konda opened the match with her only goal of the game and Righetti followed with a top-shelf goal to give the Vikings a 2-0 lead in just over 60 seconds.
The Golden Bears answered with two of their own goals to tie it up, but it was the first and only tie of the match. Kingsburg led 3-2 after the first quarter and then took over.
After drawing an ejection, Gipson finished from inside the 2-meter line into the right corner. Less than 30 seconds later, Righetti scored an almost identical goal. Buendia then scored a backhand goal and the Vikings led 7-3 at halftime.
“We were really looking for those counters,” Dewey said. “We were being aware and anticipating when they were not going to shoot, we took off and made it possible for us to be able to get down there and get the balls to get the quick shot.”
Hanson scored two goals 44 seconds apart to start the third quarter, including her third on a man-up, and the Vikings had their largest lead of the match, 9-3. Sierra Pacific cut it to five, but Buendia’s goal from the right wing made it 10-4.
Kingsburg didn’t score in the fourth quarter, but it wasn’t necessary after they outscored Sierra Pacific 7-1 over the second and third quarters.
During that span Kingsburg’s defense anticipated Sierra Pacific’s drives, but kept their distance to avoid ejections. They used their speed to recover on the drives and get in front of the Golden Bears to block the majority of their shots.
“Once the first quarter was over we all talked and I think it got in our heads like this is the game. We just have to kick it into gear and then we’ll be able to pull it out and I mean Valley champs, everyone wants that,” Kingsburg goalkeeper Mikayla Vierra said.
With the win, the Vikings concluded a postseason where they outscored opponents 36-14. They took down Madera South 14-5 in the quarterfinals and Tulare Western 12-3 in the semifinals.
The young team will lose only three seniors and bring back the majority of their roster, including leading goal scorer Righetti (74 goals).
Kingsburg will take part in the CIF State playoffs, but the 2018 CIF NorCal girls water polo championship brackets are currently unavailable. A statement on the CIF State website said, “Due to the impact of the fires, brackets will be announced at a later date TBD, with contests beginning no later than Thursday, Nov. 15.”
The CIF State Office will be issuing a statement with more information today at noon.