After a combined 53 games between the boys and girls Sierra Pacific water polo teams, it all comes down to one game — well two technically.
The girls will face Kingsburg today at 4:30 p.m. and the boys will take on Edison at 5 p.m. Both will be vying for a Division III championship and they’ll both be tasked with trying to win on the road as they’re both facing the No. 1 seeds in their brackets.
Neither team has ever won a Division III — or any — championship in water polo.
The girls team defeated Yosemite on Tuesday 15-6 to clinch their spot in the finale and is as confident as ever. And they should be.
In 2015, Sierra Pacific made it to the championship game, but lost 10-5. In 2016, they lost in the quarterfinals and including this postseason, have been involved in five playoff games over the last three years. The team has experience and is ready to show that experience one more time.
“We’ve all been here before,” Sierra Pacific coach Jessica Bean said. “We’re a much more confident team, we’re more of a solid team all around and I don’t think we’ve ever had this solid of a team coming into a championship game like this. I think the pressure is basically off of us.”
The Golden Bears started the season 5-0 before dropping their first game in a tournament and eventually losing three in a row. They rebounded by winning eight of their next 10 games including wins against Tulare Union, Garces Memorial, Sierra and Reedley — all Division II opponents.
Their 21-7 record and almost-perfect 8-1 East Sequoia League record is no fluke. The girls are disciplined on defense and force teams into mistakes.
On the season, they’ve allowed only 6.21 goals per match, while pacing themselves at 10.82 goals offensively. In their two playoff games, Sierra Pacific has been even better as they’ve limited opponents to a total of nine goals and scored 29 goals.
Even when teams do get by Sierra Pacific’s defense, they have to deal with goalkeeper Emma Enquist. In 28 games this year, she’s made 204 saves for an average of 7.28 saves per game.
The Golden Bears will face an unfamiliar foe in Kingsburg. They faced them earlier this year and lost 12-2, but it was the team’s fourth game in two days and were missing two starters. Bean also had her reserves play in the second half so little can be taken away from their only match of the season.
“They haven’t gotten a good taste or good look of what we have,” Bean said. “They’ve only seen a quarter of it. I think that it’ll end up being a good game.”
Kingsburg (19-4, 8-0 NSL) has been dominant as the 1-seed, outscoring their opponents in their two playoff games 37-3. The Vikings finished second in the Central Sequoia League and are currently on a 10-game winning streak.
The team boasts five seniors and a defense that surrendered an average of 3.91 goals per game this season. On offense, the Vikings averaged 11.39 goals per game and are a perfect 8-0 at home.
It’s going to take a monumental effort from both teams to beat each other, but Bean says her girls are ready for it.
“We have our game plan and we know what our game plan is,” Bean said. “We hope to put it to them and make sure that we just continue to play our game. We feel good about our chances if we play our game.”
For the boys team, first-year coach Scott Jordan — in his second stint with Sierra Pacific — understands the moment.
“It’s going to prove that Sierra Pacific isn’t the underdogs that everybody thinks we are,” Jordan said about if his team wins. “We’ve certainly proved that we are a team to not take lightly.”
Sierra Pacific defeated 7-seed Tulare Western 13-10 on Tuesday to make their way to the title game. A slow start turned into a steady finish for the boys to clinch their semifinal victory.
“Once they started clicking with one another it just didn’t slow down,” Jordan said. “They were ready for it all the way.”
It was a year of firsts for Sierra Pacific. It was the first time they were East Sequoia League champions. It was the first time they finished a perfect 10-0 in league and the first time they conquered league foe Strathmore — twice. And the first time they’ve ever made it to the Valley championship game.
There’s just one “first” left to do. Win a Division III championship.
“They’re just taking it as another game,” Jordan said. “They’re ready for it.”
Last year, the Golden Bears lost in the opening round 10-5 as the 9-seed, but they’ve really come into their own this year. Sierra Pacific’s overall record of 19-6 earned them the 3-seed and a first-round bye in the bracket. They wasted no time in sending Yosemite home with a 20-7 shellacking last Saturday and followed up with their quarterfinals victory.
Out of Sierra Pacific’s six losses on the season, five were against Division 1 (Buchanan) and Division 2 (Kingsburg, Tulare Union, Garces Memorial, San Joaquin Memorial) opponents. They lost to Buchanan — who won the Division 1 championship last year — by six, to Kingsburg by four and Tulare Union by three.
Riding a 12-game winning streak, Sierra Pacific is ready to win. Their quick counters and full array of goal scorers in Karter Pate, John Mello or Michael Mason make them a threat from all sides of the pool. Goalkeeper Ethan Soares has had great games over the past couple weeks and had a personal-best 25 saves against Yosemite.
The team also has seven seniors who have, for the most part, been building chemistry over the last four years. The seniors want to get their ring this year and it’ll all come down to 28 minutes of game action.
Their opponent will be Edison (21-8, 6-4 CML) a school in Fresno in the Country Metro League. They finished third in their league, but they play some tough competition in Division I school Bullard and San Joaquin Memorial.
Neither of the two teams has faced each other this year and the last time the two did play each other, it was 2014 when Edison won 14-3. Of course, that doesn’t matter in the least bit. The two teams will have to make quick adjustments and try to figure each other’s offense quickly.
“We’ll go out maybe the first quarter, maybe if it takes that, we’ll see what they’re running and we’ll make adjustments on the fly,” Jordan said. “We’re usually good at adapting pretty quickly at what teams throw at us.”
No matter how today’s championship games shape up, both teams have had seasons for the record books. The last record to determine is if they’re champions or runners-up.