La Habra comeback bid falls just short
by Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal
A late rally by the La Habra water polo team fell just a bit short in a 10-8 loss to Santa Monica in the first round of the CIF-SS Division 4 playoffs, Thursday afternoon at Santa Monica High.
Down by four goals heading into the fourth quarter, the Highlanders once again showed their strength as a second-half team by reducing the deficit to one goal with plenty of time for the equalizer.
However, after the teams traded goals, the Vikings held on by scoring with 43 seconds remaining to take a 10-8 lead. On the ensuing Highlanders’ possession, Sean Pedersen’s shot was blocked and the Vikings ran out the clock.
“I’ve mentioned before that it’s been a weird experience for me to have this type of team that always fights back,” said David Edwards, La Habra head coach. “It is good from a character development point-of-view. To me it shows character to fight back hard and not get down on yourselves. I’m really proud of this team for that. I wish they would demonstrate more of that in the first quarter.”
The Highlanders trailed 8-4 heading into the final quarter, but got two quick goals from Pedersen in set, with assists going to Jake Wybaczynsky and Jacob Graham.
Then, after a La Habra turnover, Darin Moore tipped a ball away from Santa Monica goalkeeper Tommy Prada and scored to make the score 8-7.
Both teams missed opportunities before Efe Toros scored for the Vikings while in set. It was the fourth consecutive possession that Toros took a shot from close range. On the fourth attempt, the ball slipped under the hands of La Habra goalkeeper Corey Edwards.
Grant Harris fired a quick shot and scored seven seconds later to make it 9-8 with one minute remaining.
But Jared Klann would have the final say for the Vikings, as his outside shot closed the scoring and Santa Monica’s defense held on to preserve the win and advance to the second round.
“I think that Santa Monica definitely earned it, I’m happy to see them move on,” Edwards said. “It would have been nice for us to move on, but I think for the team we have, this is a good finish for us.”
Pedersen and Harris scored three goals each and Moore added two goals to account for all of La Habra’s scoring.
Goalkeeper Corey Edwards made 12 saves for the Highlanders.
The defensive gameplan for La Habra was similar to its previous two contests, press outside and try to hinder ball movement.
However, that plan ran into trouble when set defender Michael Weir was forced out twice on foul calls, which in turn forced Edwards to substitute for him until the second half.
With Weir out, the Vikings tried to move the ball inside, which forced La Habra to close in.
As a result, outside shooters were able to gain separation. They didn’t miss too many opportunities.
Santa Monica’s Robbie Staenberg scored on three outside shots to lead the Vikings. Three others, including Toros, scored two goals each. Klann finished with four assists.
“The two exclusions on Mike hurt us a lot, it forced us to pull Grant back to play set defense,” Edwards said. “[Santa Monica] moved their set players around quite a bit and had some kids that could make some good moves in there. Mike came back and battled tough in set, Grant came up with some big shots for us, but we just couldn’t hold on defensively. They were placing really good shots. When we had to help out in set, they’re outsides made us pay.”
Santa Monica came out quickly, scoring two goals within the first minute of the game. The Vikings led 4-2 after the first quarter.
Harris and Pedersen scored goals within 20 seconds in the first quarter, Harris drove the center lane on a 6-on-5, while Pedersen stole the ball, earned a foul call and scored as a result.
La Habra pulled within one on Harris’ second goal, but the Vikings closed out the first half with three unanswered goals to take a 7-3 lead.
Each team scored a goal in a third quarter that was slowed by miscues on both sides.
The Highlanders finish up the season at 16-14 overall. Edwards said afterwards that, given the smaller roster, he was happy with what the team accomplished this season.
La Habra will lose seven seniors to graduation.
“Having the seniors on this year’s team gave us depth and helped us in games because guys were able to get rest,” Edwards said, adding that each senior brought a different aspect, which made this team stand out even more.