IRVINE – Coming into Wednesday’s CIF-SS Div. 1 Semifinal contest between the San Marcos High girls water polo team and Foothill, there was only one thing on the Royals’ mind: revenge.
Last season, Foothill eliminated San Marcos from the postseason, handing its opponent a one-goal defeat.
Led by a slew of seniors, six of which are heading to Div. 1 schools to continue their collegiate careers, the Royals were hoping to see a different ending to their final high school season.
Instead, San Marcos was met with more of the same, losing to Foothill, 7-6, at the William Wollett Jr. Aquatics Center in Irvine, ending its season and its hopes of claiming its second CIF title in three years.
“We knew it was going to be a one-point game, and it was, but I am just proud of my kids,” San Marcos coach Chuckie Roth said.
“They showed strong and true character and fought until the very end.”
San Marcos started out on the attack in Wednesday’s semifinal, scoring in three of its first four possessions.
The Royals got scores from freshman Ava Stryker, senior Megan Musick and Miller to jump out to a 3-1 lead with 3:40 remaining in the first quarter.
“At first, I think we were really quick and we had a lot of fast energy and we didn’t hesitate. It was really just a lot of fast things, kids got the ball and shot,” Roth said.
That quick offense was quickly bottled up by Foothill, however, as San Marcos would go a little over 17 minutes without a score.
Still, the Royals had a stout defense they could rely on. Coming into the contest, San Marcos gave up just a combined 14 goals in their last three games.
The Royals would give up another three scores before the end of the first quarter, however, as defenders were routinely out of position.
Foothill’s Malia Allen, who will be attending UCLA in the fall, took advantage of the defense, netting two goals in the final three minutes to help give her team a 4-3 lead after the first period.
Allen then assisted on the Knights only goal in the second quarter, getting the ball to Julia Janov who scored from the perimeter to give Foothill a 5-3 halftime lead.
“In the first and second, we were pretty bad defensively. We allowed the ball to move everywhere and it was just not okay,” Roth said.
In the second period, the Royals offense turned the ball over on seven of their possessions and, even when they got a shot off, they would usually settle for bad looks.
That same trend continued in the third, with San Marcos missing a few power-play opportunities.
On the flip side, the Knights stayed on the attack, adding two more goals to take a 7-3 lead with 1:51 remaining.
The Royals finally broke their scoreless streak with seven seconds left in the third period, as Miller was able to fire a shot and find the far corner to bring her team back within three goals to start the final quarter.
“We just kind of told ourselves that we got to give it everything we have in that moment. It was never over until the end, so we had to keep fighting,” Miller said.
Her score began a Royals rally that nearly ended with a win.
First, Hannah Meyer, who was stout defensively as she usually is, finally netted her first goal of the game. The senior drew an ejection and then converted the 6-on-5 opportunity by firing in a score to bring San Marcos back within two.
The Royals’ next two offensive trips came up empty, but with a bit over three minutes remaining, Roth called a timeout. Out of the break, Miller would again come up big for San Marcos, scoring with 2:52 left in the game to make the score 7-6.
“Yeah, that was big. I just kind of shot it. I didn’t really know if it was gonna go in or not. But I think it got us going and it gave me a little extra push, we just ran out of time,” Miller said.
With just over 1:20 left, San Marcos, out of a timeout, was going for the tie and the ball started in Miller’s hand. The senior lobbed the ball to the end line, looking for her teammate.
Miller sailed the pass, however, resulting in the ball touching out of bounds and giving possession back to Foothill.
“On that last-minute play, we didn’t have enough space. My girl was receiving too close to the goal. She needed to either start later or start further out. We run that thing quite a bit of times in practice and it was never an issue before, but all you can do is learn from it,” Roth said.
On the ensuing possession, the Royals committed an offensive foul with 34 seconds remaining, again turning possession back over to their opponents.
San Marcos tried to get a shot off with the four seconds it had remaining but failed to do so, resulting in a 7-6 win for Foothill.
“They’re a great program. They do a great job and we’ve been playing against these girls for a very, very long time. We are both senior-heavy teams and we know each other well and I have a ton of respect for them,” Roth said.
“At the end of the day, we have something to learn from this game. I’ll become a better coach and they’ll become better athletes and somehow this is going to make us all better.”
The Royals (21-6) still have one more game on their schedule as they will play for third-place on Saturday.
It might not mean a lot to some people, but for Miller, it does, considering it will be her final game in a San Marcos uniform.
“It’s crazy just because I’ve been with these girls since 12 and unders, so to finally get to this point where now we’re going to all be going our separate ways, it’s pretty emotional. I’m not going to be playing with these guys ever again so it’s kind of crazy but it’s also pretty cool because we’re all going to, I think, succeed, so I am just glad I got to do this with them,” Miller said.