Defense leads Highlanders past Wild Card Round
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
LA MIRADA – The La Habra water polo team continued a trend of shutdown defense in a 8-4 victory over Etiwanda in the Wild Card round of the CIF-SS Division 4 playoffs, Tuesday afternoon at La Mirada Splash.
Behind a dominant first half, the Highlanders struggled in the second half while trying to force the ball into the two-meter man.
However, the defense more than made up for it.
“They really wanted to move the ball inside and we were able to shut them down,” said David Edwards, La Habra head coach. “The times they were able to move the ball down low, we just had the wrong matchup. I chewed out my players for it, because one player was coming back and the rest weren’t quite as quick.”
Maverick Chen led the defensive charge, hustling back to defend Etiwanda’s biggest scoring threat, Josiah Gordon, down low.
“I was ejected early, so coach told me to spin with him, I had a mental block early,” Chen said. “Coming back in the third and fourth quarter, I honed in on that. I felt good about it, it snowballed in terms of my confidence.”
On the offensive side, Grant Harris sparked the Highlanders in the first quarter with a pair of goals from the outside.
Harris scored three goals, while fellow senior Michael Weir added two goals and two assists as La Habra led 7-2 at halftime.
“They were dropping off early, so we could drive through and shoot from the outside, which worked a lot,” Weir said. “Sean [Pedersen] was fouled in the second quarter, which allowed me an opportunity to shoot a five-meter. I love those chances.”
In the second half, La Habra shut down Gordon and Dawson Hartwig, which were the Eagles’ biggest scoring threats.
Though the Highlanders were outscored in the second half, the interior defense swarmed Gordon inside when he got the ball.
Meanwhile, La Habra forced the issue on the other side, which caused fits for Edwards.
“We got a little too hung up on getting the ball into set in the second half, our movement slowed, which frustrated me,” Edwards said. “It’s where our scoring died out. We normally can finish strong.”
Harris put La Habra up just over a minute into the game with a shot from the outside. The goal came after Etiwanda’s goalie was forced out for the play after committing a foul.
Weir scored on an inside pass from Darin Moore and Pedersen added a goal on an assist from Weir to push the lead to 3-0.
La Habra (16-13) took advantage of fouls in the second quarter. Harris scored on a 6-on-5 and Weir converted on a five-meter penalty shot.
Moore closed out the half with an inside goal on a brilliant pass from Weir.
“We just needed to continue not letting them turn us and get advantages,” Weir said of the mindset going into the second half. “We needed to get better plays on [Gordon], who’s their best player. Once we adjusted there, things worked well.”
Both teams scored goals early in the third quarter, including Etiwanda’s Gordon, but both missed crucial opportunities down the stretch.
Hardwig closed out the scoring 30 seconds into the fourth quarter as La Habra’s defense did the rest.
“We’re really confident now, especially since I didn’t know how I was going to fare against this team,” Chen said. “Watching us do this, if I’m able to come back on defense, I’m the slowest guy on the team, it makes me believe that as a team, we can have success.”
Etiwanda finished the season at 14-10 overall.
The Highlanders head out to Santa Monica for a first round game scheduled for 5 p.m., Thursday.