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Warriors one goal short in CIF girls water polo quarterfinal

Joe Naiman

Village News Reporter

The 2022-23 Fallbrook High School girls water polo season ended Feb. 11 when the Warriors lost a 10-9 match against San Marcos in the CIF Division II quarterfinals.

Fallbrook, which had advanced to the quarterfinals with a come-from-behind victory over Ramona in the first-round match Feb. 9, finished the season with a 14-11 overall record. The Warriors were 4-1 in Avocado League play and shared the league championship.

The Feb. 4 CIF playoff seeding and selection meeting gave Fallbrook the seventh seed in the Division II playoffs. Ramona was seeded 10th.

In 2018, Ramona won the Valley League championship and Fallbrook was second in the standings with the Warriors’ only loss being to Ramona, and the Bulldogs finished 4-1 in Valley League play during each of the previous three seasons with Fallbrook posting 5-0 records each year. During all four of those seasons, the game between Ramona and Fallbrook decided the league championship.

After the North County Conference based league alignment on competitive balance for each sport, Ramona and Fallbrook were both moved out of the Valley League. This year Ramona was in the Coastal League and Fallbrook was assigned to the Avocado League. Ramona was 2-2 in Coastal League play for third place, and the Bulldogs entered the playoff against Fallbrook with a 14-9 overall record.

When Fallbrook and Ramona were in the Valley League, they were the only schools in the league with on-campus pools, but neither met the CIF playoff requirement of an all-deep pool. Because Fallbrook was the higher seed, the Warriors had the task of locating a pool for the playoff match. Fallbrook coach Sean Redmond obtained use of The Wave in Vista for the playoff against the Bulldogs.

One difference between Fallbrook and Ramona is the coaching structure of the schools’ aquatic teams. Redmond coaches both girls water polo and girls swim for Fallbrook while Bill Richardson is the Warriors’ boys water polo and boys swim coach. Donnie Williams coaches both boys water polo and girls water polo for Ramona while the Bulldogs have a separate head swim coach for both boys and girls (albeit with separate assistant coaches for the boys and for the girls while head coach Deena Vizcarra focuses on the divers).

In Redmond’s opinion, having water polo players whose swimming activity provides speed and endurance was the advantage Fallbrook had over Ramona. “Everybody on the team also swims,” he said. “I don’t require it, but it’s kind of expected.”

Ramona’s 2022-23 girls water polo team had 10 seniors. Only one of those, Devyn Fulghum, placed in the top four in an event at last year’s Valley League meet and that was in diving. Sierra Yale was also on last year’s swim team, but as Ramona’s goalkeeper her speed and endurance weren’t as relevant.

“When you’re going to play Fallbrook you need to swim,” Redmond said. “I thought they (Ramona) played very well, but it was our conditioning and mindset. Once we started going we knew that we could do that.”

Fallbrook defeated the Bulldogs in the 11-6 game, but at one time Ramona held a 6-3 lead. “We were down by three halfway through the third period. We were able to come back and shut them out for the second half of the third period and all of the fourth period. That was very satisfying,” Redmond said. “Our girls were able to come back and come back with a roar.”

On four occasions, Fallbrook junior Ava Dowden drew a 20-second ejection penalty which allowed the Warriors to have a one-player advantage over the Bulldogs. Fallbrook had a total of five power plays during the game. “We had the opportunity but didn’t take advantage of it,” Redmond said.

During the first half, the Warriors were unsuccessful on all three power plays. Fallbrook scored on one of two advantage opportunities in the third period.

“I think we came out a little sluggish in the beginning,” Redmond said.

“All of a sudden things kind of clicked. That’s when everything changed,” Redmond said. “I give the girls credit for working through all that and not giving up.”

Dowden also scored four goals while junior Kela Kendall provided three goals and one goal apiece was scored by senior Alexis Fieri, junior Ava Papoulias, junior Marissa Pearce, and junior Kasey Sanchez. Dowden and Sanchez each recorded two steals against the Bulldogs while Pearce had one steal. Fallbrook goalkeeper Arden Baur had eight saves.

Baur, Fieri, Victoria McBride, Maya Papoulias, Fiona Wells, and Katja Young were Fallbrook’s six seniors. Their high school water polo careers, as well as Fallbrook’s season, concluded with the loss to second-seeded San Marcos in the quarterfinal played at La Jolla High School’s Coggan Pool.

“I’m sad that we lost, and I think the girls also felt the same way,” Redmond said.

Late in the second quarter the Knights held a 9-4 lead. “We did dig ourselves a hole,” Redmond said.

A Fallbrook goal with 32 seconds remaining in the second period created a 9-5 halftime score. The Warriors scored four times in the second half while limiting the Knights to one goal.

“We shut them out in the fourth, and we just ran out of time and ended up losing by one,” Redmond said.

Redmond noted that San Marcos had three strong outside shooters. “During the second period, we started making adjustments on our defense, and that was paying off in the second half,” he said.

The offense also figured out some obstacles by the time the halftime whistle blew. “They just came out really strong and hard during that second half,” Redmond said.

Creating shot opportunities doesn’t necessarily translate into goals. “Their goalie did a very good job of blocking some of our shots, especially at the end,” Redmond said.

Dowden had five of Fallbrook’s goals against San Marcos and added a steal. Fieri scored twice. Kendall provided a goal and three steals. Sanchez had Fallbrook’s other goal. Ava Papoulias was responsible for two steals. Pearce drew three ejections, although the Warriors only converted two of their five power plays against the Knights. Baur made seven saves in her final high school water polo game.


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