On Thursday, the varsity boys’ water polo team faced their league opponents, the Warriors of Carpinteria High School. In the past, the Warriors have always dominated the Dragons. According to head coach David Wallace, the team “never got within four [or] five goals” of Carpinteria.
Thursday, Sept. 7 was a different story. The Dragons put on a show for their energetic fans in the first home game of the season as they kept the game close at every stage. However, it wasn’t enough to topple the Warriors at the Ventura Aquatic Center. In an overtime thriller, the Dragons were narrowly defeated by Carpinteria, 13-12.
As soon as Zion Denzel ‘19 won the first sprint, the momentum swung towards Foothill. An early offensive attack led to a penalty shot for Andres Coppa ‘18, who converted on the opportunity to give the Dragons a 1-0 lead. Just a minute later, Coppa scored again, this time on an assist from teammate Tyler Liddell ‘19. Foothill’s 2-0 lead looked promising, yet it would not last. With four minutes left in the first quarter, the Warriors got on the scoreboard with a soft toss over the outstretched hands of goalkeeper Alex Abele ‘18.
Not long after, Carpinteria scored once more to tie the score at two apiece. Two minutes later, the Warriors took the lead when they fired a shot into the top corner of the goal. In retaliation, the Dragons flirted with another score while deep in Carpinteria territory, but they were unable to capitalize. With five seconds to play, the Warriors ended the quarter on a strong note, catching Foothill’s defense off-guard and scoring to push their lead to 4-2.
Although Foothill retrieved the first ball in the second quarter, it didn’t take long for Carpinteria to regain the momentum. A strong defensive stand by the Warriors led to a quick goal, resulting in a 5-2 lead. Not to be outdone, Coppa scored his third goal of the game with a backhand shot past the opposing goalkeeper, nullifying the Warriors’ previous score.
A minute later, Abele came up with a remarkable save and passed the ball to Coppa, who took another backhand shot. However, this shot would fail to find the back of the net, as it flew wide of the goalpost. Coppa’s miss was followed by two minutes of scoreless play, until Denzel finally broke the ice, scoring his first goal of the game and cutting Carpinteria’s lead to 5-4. The Warriors responded fast, scoring their sixth goal of the contest just 20 seconds after Denzel’s score.
As the half winded down, it seemed as if Carpinteria would retain their lead and take a 6-4 advantage into the halftime break. Instead, Coppa received a pass from teammate Devon Pennington ‘18 and promptly sent another backhand shot into the net. Once the buzzer sounded, the Dragons headed into the locker room after cutting the Warriors’ lead to one goal.
Once the second half began, varsity newcomer Nikolai Haines ‘20 stole the spotlight and sparked a Foothill scoring run. About two minutes of scoreless play was featured in the third quarter, and then Haines received the ball. He passed it to a wide-open Liddell, who knotted the score at six apiece. Just ten seconds later, Carpinteria regained the lead, but lost it once more when Haines scored. Looking to take a permanent lead, the Warriors scored their eighth goal about two minutes later, securing an 8-7 advantage.
Yet Haines promptly tied the score at eight just 20 seconds later. He launched a powerful shot from the center of the pool, which got past the Carpinteria goalkeeper. Two minutes went by, and the Dragons were presented with another scoring opportunity. Denzel attempted a shot on goal but it narrowly missed, grazing the right goal post. The Warriors rebounded the ball, launched a half-court pass, and eventually scored on a fast-break. Once the third quarter came to a close, Carpinteria clung to a 9-8 lead.
After Denzel grabbed the crucial first ball to start the fourth quarter, the pressure ensued. With one minute gone, Richie Brandi ‘18 tied the score at nine, to which the crowd roared their approval. It took about thirty seconds for the Warriors to regain a one goal lead, but Haines came through again. His goal pushed the Dragons into double-digit scoring, and it evened the score to 10-10. After a string of four timeouts between both teams, Coppa added another backhand goal. Yet Carpinteria wasted no time retaliating, scoring to tie the score once more at 11-11. The final two minutes of the fourth quarter featured fantastic defense by Abele. Three clutch saves held the Warriors off the scoreboard, eventually forcing overtime.
Within three minutes of the start of overtime, Carpinteria finally took control of the game. They scored the go-ahead goal, and added one more score with about 30 seconds left in the period, giving them a comfortable two goal lead. Nico Parker ‘18 eventually scored with the clock winding down, but it did not make a difference. The Warriors’ goalkeeper held the ball for the final seconds, signalling the end of a hard-fought game which resulted in a 13-12 Dragons loss.
A loss does not usually evoke optimism, but today’s game was significant for the Dragons, no matter the outcome. The fact that they were able to keep the game in reach against a competitive Warriors squad made Wallace “really proud of their effort.”
“To take them to overtime and have leads off and on in the game was a really big morale boost for those guys,” Wallace explained.
Coppa believes “100 percent” that the contest was a morale booster, in the words of his coach.
“We were tied and this is one of the first times we’ve gotten something like that, so we just wanted to play our best and it didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to,” he said. “But we played well, and I have faith that we can bring it back next time we play them.”
The game also displays the progress that the Dragons have made since the end of the 2016 season. Coppa expressed that “we are a lot better this year” and he is “excited for the rest of the season” due to the team’s improved ability to win games. His teammate, Denzel, “knew we were going to be better this year” as well for a variety of reasons.
“This year we have a full starting lineup of seniors, and then a bunch of really good juniors,” he said. “And so going into the year with a lot of players like that, we knew that we were going to do better than last year.”
The players didn’t forget to mention the appreciation for their fans during the first home game of the season. Onlookers in the crowd were active and energetic all game long, and it did not go unnoticed by Coppa.
“I’m extremely excited that a lot of people wanted to come out and I’m really happy that we got the support that we did,” he said. “And I think overall for the team, it meant a lot for us and we were able to play better because of the support.”
The Dragons will look to retain the morale boost from the overtime loss for their next contest. On Friday and Saturday, the team will participate in the Conejo Classic Tournament at Thousand Oaks High School. Last year, the team placed sixth and Wallace believes there is a “good opportunity” to place inside the top five, which would earn them a medal.