A nice refreshing dip in the pool is just what most people want this time of year, except the Lady Jags water polo team. Then it means time to go to work. A furious comeback fell just short in a 12-9 defeat to the Miramar Jets. Head coach Jennifer Harper said the Lady Jags (2-11) felt like they had righted the ship after allowing just two goals in the second half.
“It’s still a work in progress,” she said. “They need to work on communication and eye contact. They are a young group that got a little nervous and in the second half they really settled down.” First team all-PCAC sophomore Irene Ramos propelled SWC in the first quarter. Passes around the perimeter led to freshman Leah Acosta finding Ramos at the left corner of the goal, she faked the pass back and rocketed a shot past the goalie for an early 3-3 tie. Ramos floated deep in the heart of the Jet defense and made the defense pay, scoring all five goals for the Lady Jags in the quarter. Harper said Ramos is unstoppable.
“She is a very dynamic player, she is tough as nails and has a wicked shot from the inside,” she said. “Her biggest advantage is she is creative. It’s not a black and white game for her, catch, turn and shoot. You have no idea which way she is going to go or what she’s going to do which makes her more lethal to any defense or any goalie.”
Slippery hands and blurry eyes were the story in the second quarter. Eight first half turnovers and a flurry shots fired over the net dragged down SWC, as they failed to score and trailed 10-5 at the half. Harper was very vocal throughout the game, calling out adjustments, words of encouragement and making frequent line changes to keep fresh legs in the water. When the sirens sounded to start the second half, the Lady Jags turned their ice-cold defense into a frozen wall of a glacier. They clamped down and set up goalie Sarah-Lynn Stevens with easier saves. Ramos adjusted to handling the ball deeper in the Miramar end of the pool and the rally was on.
With the score 10-7, Ramos’ shot was deflected off the fingertips of Jet goalie Darci Self and out of play. A second opportunity clanged off the top of the crossbar. Miramar sophomore Alicia Foresman responded with a torpedo from the top point past the reach of Stevens with 44 seconds remaining in the quarter to make it 11-7 Jets. Laryssa Lucatero rallied, weaving the ball back and forth to mesmerize the goalie before shooting it past her right shoulder. She followed that with an assist across the heart of the defense to freshman Barbara Bartolome for a quick strike on the left side bring the lead within two with 4:15 remaining.
Missed opportunities led to a Jet goal on a pick play that allowed the shooter to float the ball up and over Stevens. Two SWC turnovers followed and would sink their hopes of a comeback. Each team broke huddle with a chant for their opponent, a gesture of respect rarely witnessed by even the most avid sports fan. Harper said the difference in the second half was teamwork.
“They come from all different high schools so were teaching them to help each other,” she said. “They are learning where you can help from and how you help your teammates.”
Ramos said she played the role of coach in the pool, communicating adjustments.
“I think a lot of them do look up to me,” she said. “When I give them advice they don’t take it personal. They take it as, my captain is telling me what to do and she has played before, she knows what she’s doing.”
Freshman Cheyenne Santiago said the little things make the difference for the team of guppies.
“Taking smart shots, communicating a little more and swimming with our heads up,” she said. “Now that everyone knows each other and how we play, it’s easier. We could have beaten them, we just need a little more practice. One adjustment for the freshmen is dealing with eight-minute quarters as opposed to six in high school.
Harper said chemistry and conditioning are the key to her-defense first philosophy.
“I run a very mobile defense so they have to be in really good shape to be able to run the defenses I want them to run,” she said. “It’s a different level of water polo, the refereeing is different and play is higher and faster. It’s a whole new ballgame as they say.” Harper said she is more than a tactician. She said she wants her swimmers to successfully navigate the vast ocean of life.
“First I want my athletes to understand that they’re students first and organize themselves as students,” she said. “It’s going to be a successful season if they are because at the end, if they are scattered and unorganized, that never helps any athlete. Second is conditioning, third is bringing them all into one system of water polo.”
SWC will host Palomar College in a rematch Wednesday October 8th.