HANFORD — As Hanford first-year head coach Austin Martin put it after Thursday’s water polo match, the team is still a work in progress, but they’re getting there.
“We played better than we have, but we’re still a little sloppy, so we have some work to do,” Martin said. “But overall, it’s getting better, can’t complain.”
And despite being in his first year, Martin has set the bar high for his team.
“As long as we work as a team, I believe we can win WYL,” Martin said.
The Bullpups (2-2-1) took another step toward that goal with an 11-7 victory over rival Hanford West (0-2) behind Audrey Camara’s game-high seven goals. The match will be the only meeting between the two teams this season with the Huskies moving into the Central Sequoia League.
Camara opened the match with back-to-back goals, including a man-up score. The Huskies cut into the deficit with their own man-advantage goal from Jill Willhite. The score remained at 2-1 after a slow first quarter.
Things ramped up in the second with Camara finishing on the fast break and finding space at the 2-meter line. Hanford West’s Katie Kevorkian cut the lead back to one with 5:35 left in the quarter.
But Camara was too much for the Hanford West defense and scored the next two goals and the Bullpups’ first five goals of the match.
“She’s a great role model for the team,” Martin said. “She’s really just been a leader on the team, [someone] girls can look up to and she’s really always confident and always able to help.”
Trailing 5-2, the Huskies weren’t going to go quietly and they started to find some rhythm on offense. Eva McIlwaine — who scored a team-high three goals — scored twice at the end of the half to make it 6-4 after a score by Hanford’s Megan Bairstow.
“I think they got some encouragement, they got a taste for wanting to do better and they stuck with that,” Hanford West first-year head coach Maggie Murray said.
Huskies goalkeeper Allison Dias really kept her team in the game by making save after save with some coming on one-on-one situations. She stopped 14 shots in all.
“I was kind of nervous at first, so I was warming up super hard,” Dias said. “I felt better when I got my first block. I just stare at the ball and try to keep myself up.”
Coming out of halftime, Jill Willhite scored after her initial shot was blocked and cut the lead to one. It was the closest the Huskies had been since the second quarter, but it was also as close as they would come.
The Bullpups went on a 4-0 run to regain a five-point lead and swing the momentum. They scored on a man-up opportunity and Bairstow buried a turnaround shot and scored on a one-on-one fast break, both inside of two meters.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Huskies trailed 10-5. McIlwaine and Kevorikian made it a three-point game with 4:40 left to play, but Camara scored just under a minute later to secure the win.
“Although we were down by four, I am super proud of my girls,” Murray said. “They kept their heads in the game, they worked together as a team. To me, it’s a win in my book because they kept playing their game.”
As the season progresses, Murray wants her team to focus on moving in the water more and passing the ball, citing their difficulty to put the ball in the cage.