Canyon's Kamren Thurmond tries to get shot off against the defense of Peninsula's Lily Hopkins, left, and Grace Knight during the CIF-SS Division 4 girls water polo final between Canyon and Peninsula at Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine, CA, Saturday, February 25, 2017. (Photo by Mark Dustin for the Orange County Register)

Canyon's bid for title is denied by Peninsula


IRVINE - The emotions of Canyon’s girls water polo team ranged from humble smiles to sorrowful embraces. But one thing was certain after the CIF-SS Division 4 final Saturday morning.

The Comanches carved their legacy.

Canyon’s run to its first Southern Section final ended at the hands of Peninsula goalie Kiersten Hazard, who made 17 saves to lead the Panthers to a 9-4 victory and their first title.

The top-seeded Comanches (24-9) never led against No. 3 Peninsula (20-6) but still left Woollett Aquatics Center firm about their accomplishments.

They advanced further than any previous Canyon team, including the ones led by two-time Olympic gold medalist Courtney Mathewson.

“We were really hoping to win but we played a good season,” said Canyon junior Kylie Stablein, who had one goal, a field block and three steals.

“I’m sure when everyone looks back on it, they’ll see how great it was. .. I wasn’t expecting to get this far.”

Canyon co-coach Steve Anderson, who teamed Jesse Luchansky, already has seen the positives. After watching juniors Stablein, Kendal Montgomery and Emily Gonzalez and sophomore Nicole Octavio score against Peninsula, he remarked to a supporter, “We’re just warming up.”

“Their game now versus where they were eight months ago is absolutely night and day,” Anderson said. “It’s a testament to their hard work and desire and focus, and the fact that they were a close-knit team.”

Hazard, a 6-foot-1 senior, and Peninsula’s defense simply were too big of obstacles for Canyon to finish as champions.

The Panthers deployed double coverage at center to mark high-scoring Montgomery (65 goals for the season), forcing Canyon to attempt to beat Hazard from the perimeter.

Hazard responded with five saves in the first period, including three against Canyon’s only power-play chances. She capped the first half with a point-blank stop against Montgomery on a breakaway, sealing a 4-2 lead.

Peninsula built a 6-2 lead in the third behind seven saves by Hazard.

“That game was typical of her,” Peninsula coach Albert Garcia said of Hazard. “She’s been the key to our team basically all season.”

Garcia, a former Long Beach Wilson and UCLA standout, positioned two defenders in the perimeter gaps to break for the counterattack on Hazard’s saves. The Panthers scored three counterattack goals and received three goals from second-leading scorer Lily Hopkins.

“Their goalie is amazing,” Stablein said of Hazard. “We couldn’t get our balls past her but that’s OK. She had a great game.”

Canyon’s press racked up 15 steals.

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