Two days after winning their first ever playoff game, the boys’ varsity water polo team once again found themselves in uncharted territory: a crucial home matchup at the Ventura Aquatic Center, surrounded with enthusiastic supporters who were rooting for their team to continue their unprecedented run. On Thursday, Nov. 2, the Dragons faced the Conquerors of Los Altos High School of Hacienda Heights, CA. With a trip to the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) Division VI quarterfinals at stake, Foothill did not disappoint. Goalkeeper Alex Abele ‘18 notched a school-record 23 saves, and the offensive attack was sharp enough to preserve a 10-6 win.
While the first quarter featured some scoring for the Dragons, the defense seemed to stand out with plenty highlight reel plays. Whether it was tight defense coverage near the middle of the pool or Abele blocking a shot, the Conquerors failed to get anything going and were held off the scoreboard in the opening quarter. Meanwhile, the offense was jumpstarted by Nikolai Haines ‘20, who scored to give the Dragons a 1-0 lead. Likewise, Andres Coppa ‘18 made his presence felt with two first quarter goals of his own, extending the lead to three scores.
It only took Ian Canby ‘19 all of 23 seconds to add to Foothill’s tally, as he struck first in the second quarter to raise the score to 4-0. Shortly after, Los Altos began to show signs of life. The Conquerors scored twice, depriving the shutout bid from Abele. Within three minutes, the Dragons’ 4-0 lead was cut in half. However, Foothill nullified the Conquerors’ two scores rather quickly. Zion Denzel ‘19 scored his first goal of the game, and Coppa followed suit with his third score. Heading into halftime, the Dragons had regained possession of their four goal lead, with the scoreboard reading 6-2.
The game was blown open by the Dragons in the third quarter. In the span of three minutes, Foothill tallied three more goals, courtesy of Coppa and Devon Pennington ‘18 (twice), with Richie Brandi ‘18 assisting on both of Pennington’s scores. Trailing 9-2, the Conquerors were trying to claw their way out of the deficit. Two third-quarter goals certainly helped their case, but Denzel erased one of the scores with a goal of his own, and the Dragons possessed a commanding 10-4 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
Foothill’s conservative approach in the fourth quarter, in an attempt to run out the clock, allowed Los Altos to cut the lead to 10-6 with an additional two goals. By that point, it was simply too late. The crowd cheered as the final seconds ran off the clock, and with the sound of the buzzer, the Dragons were headed to the quarterfinals. Just one year removed from an abysmal record of 6-21, Foothill is among the final eight teams in the Division VI tournament. To say their expectations were surpassed would be quite an understatement.
Abele, with his aforementioned 23 saves, stated that “this is probably the best game I [have] ever played at [the] Kimball pool.” All statistics aside, he explained his mindset for a game which resulted in plenty of success.
“[My mindset was] we’re not ending this at home. We are not gonna lose at home in the playoffs,” Abele explained. “It was just one of those days where I was clicking; I had fun out there. I had fun, I like winning.”
Coppa’s mindset was similar, and explained that “all I was thinking about was we’ve got to win this, because I don’t want this to be my last game.”
Regarding the Dragons’ supporters, Coppa said “it felt amazing” and “meant the world to me” to get a win in front of the home crowd.
The Dragons’ championship journey will resume on Saturday, Nov. 4, as Foothill will take on the Coyotes of Buena Park High School in the quarterfinal round at a neutral location. The Coyotes won their second-round matchup against Elsinore High School with a final score of 8-5.
Head coach David Wallace is a firm believer that the team “has a very good shot” to win on Saturday, and hopes that “we can take that same kind of energy and experience we had today and play like that again.”
Abele’s message was plain and simple: “This is a big game.”
“We’re going to come out with a mindset to be aggressive, do our best and […] have fun,” he said.