Saturday’s day game for the Santa Barbara girls water polo team was going to be a tough mountain to climb.
The Dons were not only without key offensive starters Juju Martinez do amaral and Sophie Johnson, but they also had to play at Dos Pueblos High instead of their own school due to problems with their pool.
Despite the setbacks, Santa Barbara stepped up when it mattered most.
The Dons got two goals in the waning moments of their match against Oaks Christian, lifting them to a 5-3 win.
“I’m very excited. All these girls got more minutes (because of the injuries) and I am very proud of how they played,” Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh said.
One of those younger players who stepped up was junior Bella Obando.
With the match tied at 3-3, Obando received a pass from Allie Bartholomew in a power-play situation and made the shot to put Santa Barbara in front with 1:04 remaining. Just as important, Bartholomew drew the foul that set up the power play.
After getting a stop, the Dons on the next possession were looking to run down the clock as much as they could.
With about 15 seconds left, junior Elise Power heaved a shot from far out. The shot found the back of the net and sealed the win for Santa Barbara.
“I was really proud that the other girls stepped up. Bella Obando hasn’t had a huge role this year, she’s like really had to step into one and her goal really sealed the deal and then Elise’s goal went in and it was really cool,” senior co-captain Abagail Hendrix said.
“We’re missing Juju and we’re missing Sophie and a couple of other players so we knew people were gonna have to step up.”
Hendrix herself was also a huge factor in Saturday’s win. The USC-commit was audibly yelling to her teammates, not in a mean-spirited way, but in a constructive manner.
During timeouts, she would talk about where the Dons may have missed on some opportunities or even during plays she would direct players on where to pass the ball.
“The whole game I was yelling at everyone, with confidence, that they could do it And everyone really came together this game. It was the best we’ve played offensively and defensively, even if we weren’t scoring, we were communicating and it was super good,” Hendrix said.
In the third frame, Hendrix also came up huge in the field, nailing two penalty shots to send the Dons tied heading into the fourth.
Her first came when Santa Barbara was down 2-1, then again when it was behind 3-2. Both times she found the bottom left corner.
“They’re always so stressful,” Hendrix said.
“I thought she was gonna block the second one because I shot in the same spot but it was super helpful. It’s an easy goal and you get the opportunity you need to score, especially in a game like that where it’s super-low scoring. And I was just so grateful I could get them in there.”
When asked what makes the situation so stressful, Hendrix responded how the silence truly makes the moment feel more pressurized.
“That and it’s just you and the goalie and you’re kind of just staring each other down. They’re normally super important to the game also and so it’s just a lot of stress and you kind of have to go for it and hope it goes in,” Hendrix said.
Another thing Santa Barbara was thankful for after Saturday’s win is goalkeeper Faith Tedesco. The senior co-captain is considered one of the best keepers in the county for a reason.
Against Oaks Christian, Tedesco stopped 14 shots and took over when her team needed her the most.
Two early lob shots put the Lions in front 2-0 in the first quarter. After that first frame, however, Tedesco turned it on allowing just one goal in the final three periods and recording 13 of her 14 saves.
“I just kind of told myself if I don’t pick it up, then we might lose. Our offense, we need to improve it, but our defense is really what helps us win games,” Tedesco said.
The UC-Irvine commit also said she was proud of how the younger girls stepped up defensively even when nothing was working on the offensive side.
Saturday’s win was not flashy or special, but it was a good sign of the younger players stepping up, something that excites Walsh.
“I told the girls, ‘you don’t get better without making mistakes so if you made a mistake this game that’s great because down the road you will not make that same mistake and you will be a better player and we will be a better team,’” Walsh said.
Now, Santa Barbara will hope to recoup some of its players before it takes part in the annual Tournament of Champions beginning Thursday.
“I’m super excited. I’m a little sad that we don’t have our pool, but we’re going to try to make it work and we’re excited to play some really good competition and hopefully, we can get closer to 100% and we can try to battle with some of these top teams,” Walsh said.