For the past few weeks, the Santa Barbara High boys water polo team has enjoyed two things on a consistent level: wins and team dinner.
Last night, the Dons’ players and coaches got together one last time to enjoy each other’s company before setting out to Irvine for today’s CIF-SS Division 3 championship match against Schurr High at the Wollett Aquatics Center at 1:30 p.m.
“It was awesome to be with them. Last team dinner, last practice (on Friday). It is just crazy that my four years have gone by so fast, in the blink of an eye, and it’s awesome that all of us were together like one big family,” senior Chase Raisin said.
As Raisin alluded to, this season has gone by fast. But, 26 wins and six losses later, the Dons find themselves where every team hopes to be at the end of the season — in a championship setting.
Every senior dreams of the opportunity to win a CIF ring in their final year. For the five seniors taking part in today’s final, it is not just a dream anymore, it is a reality.
“It feels good. We have worked for this whole year and really for the past four years. I don’t even know what to say, it is crazy to think about,” senior Dylan Fogg said.
Now, most players would assure you that they had no doubt they could make it this far. But, the reality is that it is very difficult to be one of two teams standing at the end of the season.
Senior Adam Kubinyi admitted as much saying, “I did not expect us to go this far.”
“But I think we really stepped up and came together. We really excelled at practice and in these pressure games,” Kubinyi said.
Three years ago, Santa Barbara had lost a lot of good water polo talent, leaving coach Mark Walsh unsure of the teams’ potential.
“I remember that after my freshman year we had a lot of guys leave for college and we were left with a young team with not too much experience so to rise up to this point without getting too many big wins before this, it is amazing,” senior Adam Coffin said.
Over the past three years, this team has grown together, with Coffin saying the experience has been “gratifying.”
“For me, I find it very fun because we have very strong chemistry and that is such a huge advantage at this point in the season,” Coffin said.
Saturday, however, will mark the end of an era for these players because, win or lose, this is the last time this team will compete as a unit.
Some seniors hope to continue playing at the next level while others are content knowing that Saturday marks the end of their water polo career.
Regardless, knowing there is only one game left, the players are ready to leave it all out on the pool.
“There is nothing like high school. I hear that from a lot of people, but to go out with a bang would be the highlight of my career,” Raisin said.
“I know I have to give it my all and this is the last game of my four years so it means a lot and I have to push myself really hard,” Kubinyi said.
Despite an impressive 26-6 record, Santa Barbara hasn’t had an easy road. There were tough losses along the way and even some less-than-stellar wins.
But, when the team has needed to get wins, it has and it has relied on its senior core to lead them.
At Los Osos in the quarterfinals, it was Coffin who found an open Drake, who hit the game-winning shot. Against Northwood, it was Fogg who scored five goals and Raisin who came up with a crucial steal in the final minutes to stave off the Timberwolves’ late run.
“It just shows how we have come together as one team. We are such a cohesive unit even after coming from two club teams. It’s a great feeling knowing I could count on these guys. I can’t even put it into words, it is just awesome,” Raisin said.
With the pressure of a championship game comes the usual nerves of wanting to win. But as Fogg pointed out, most of these seniors have been on varsity for four years.
They have played in some tough games, they have played in front of packed crowds.
“It’s just a business trip,” Fogg said.
“I, and we really, just have to go down and do what we have done this whole season. If my shots aren’t going then I know I will find a way to help my teammates so we could play well together.”
And, the beautiful thing about sports, is that it is just a game at the end of the day. Win or lose, the players still have a lot to look forward to, not just in their athletic careers, but in life.
“I am stoked that I have the experience at this age to play in this game. It’s an honor to get there. We are one of two teams in our division to still be playing so we have outcompeted everyone else and we have proven we are a really good team,” Coffin said.
“It is pretty exciting and it is kind of sad that my career is over after this, but also, it is just good to move forward,” Kubinyi said.
“I am just super excited for (today) and a win would be a great way to go out.”
After Santa Barbara’s first-round rout over Rio Mesa, 17-10, Raisin said all the team wants now is “a CIF ring.”
Just one more opponent stands in the way of that bling.