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PHOTO, TEXT BY DAN ALBANO, OCVARSITY.COM
SET's Evan Tingler attacks during the girls 16-and-under final against Santa Barbara at the Junior Olympics on Sunday in Irvine. Santa Barbara won, 9-8.

SET girls take silver after controversy at Junior Olympics

OCVARSITY.COM

IRVINE One of youth water polo’s best rivalries of the spring and summer didn’t end in the clearest fashion Sunday at the Junior Olympics.

There were questions about what transpired in the final seconds. There was satisfaction for the winners and disappointment for the losers.

But from Orange County’s lenses, the view at the William Woollett Jr. Aquatics Center eventfully shifted to silver and bronze for the Lake Forest-based SET club.

SET’s 16-and-under girls lost in the final against Santa Barbara, 9-8, after a controversial ending. About an hour later, SET’s 18-and-under girls claimed the bronze by defeating Commerce, 9-7.

Northern California’s 680 Drivers won the 18’s crown with a 6-3 victory against Santa Barbara.

The SET and Santa Barbara 16’s met in their fourth major tournament final since April and finished with a 2-2 split. On Sunday, Santa Barbara led, 9-8, as it tried to run out the final 25 seconds after a steal by Brittany Prentice.

But with three seconds left, Santa Barbara appeared to turn the ball over in front of its goal on a delay of game call but SET never took possession in an effort to force overtime. Laguna Beach junior-to-be and national team player Aria Fischer was excluded moments later and Santa Barbara wisely declined its ensuing penalty shot to finish off the clock.

“It was a really unfortunate way to end a championship game,” SET coach Ethan Damato of Division 1 champion Laguna Beach said. “(The ball) was turned over to us because of a delay and Aria went over a girl to take the ball and they excluded her. That was my take. … I think (our girls) feel robbed.”

Santa Barbara coach Cathy Neushul said she believed Fischer was whistled for sinking.

“I didn’t think anyone knew what was going on,” Neushul said. “We got lucky.”

Santa Barbara also was good, outscoring SET, 4-3, in the final period.

Tournament MVP Paige Hauschild of San Marcos scored from the perimeter with 1:42 left for a 9-7 lead. SET’s Bella Baldridge (Laguna Beach) responded with her own perimeter strike 12 seconds later but Santa Barbara execution was better.

Neushul’s squad converted both its power-play chances in the fourth and received a game-high three goals from rising eighth-grader Jewell Roemer. Santa Barbara finished 4 for 8 on the power-play; SET went 2 for 4.

Prentice (San Marcos) scored both her goals in the fourth and added an assist. She also finished with four steals.

"It was a war out there," Prentice said. "They (SET) is really skilled. All summer our mindset was: how are we going to beat this team? ... What it came down to was our discipline and our love for each other."

SET led briefly, 6-5, early in the fourth after a counterattack strike by Laguna Beach's Sophia Lucas, who finished with a team-high two goals. SET also got single goals in the match form Fischer, Maia Borisoff (Dana Hills) Julia Rozolis-Hill (Huntington Beach), Maddy Damato (El Toro) and Evan Tingler (Laguna Beach). Goalie Thea Walsh (Laguna Beach) made 11 saves for SET.

“Our girls played their hearts out,” Coach Damato said. "Unfortunately, we didn't execute as well as we would have liked to in some areas."

Said Rozolis-Hill, "We did well this entire year. We all came into the game ready to fight, ready to go, not cocky at all. We wanted to win."

SOCAL grabbed the bronze in the 16-and-under division.

Fischer scored three goals in the 18’s bronze medal game. Maddy Damato and Baldridge also played in the back-to-back medal matches for SET. "It's rough," Coach Damato said of the consecutive games. "It just happens to be a year with a lot of good, young players."


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