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PHOTO, TEXT BY DAN ALBANO, OCVARSITY.COM
El Toro senior Valerie Spezzaferri scored winning goals in the semifinals and finals of the Villa Park Classic on Saturday.

El Toro's Spezzaferri leads at crunch time

THE ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER
:

High school water polo.

LAKE FOREST – El Toro water polo player Valerie Spezzaferri earned a new nickname for her clutch shooting Saturday at the Villa Park Classic.

The senior was dubbed "Big Shot Val" by El Toro co-coach Brett McCleave after netting winning goals in the semifinals and finals.

Spezzaferri scored from 6 meters with 4:44 left to lift No. 6 El Toro past visiting No. 5 Los Alamitos, 8-7, in the finals of the loaded, 32-team tournament.

Spezzaferri also scored on a nearly full-court shot at the buzzer in the semifinals to net the Chargers (5-1) a 9-8 victory against Division 2 rival Santiago of Corona. She scored from about her own 5 meter line, a few yards from the sideline, after her steal.

"Today (was) a good day," Spezzaferri said. "That (winning goal against Santiago) was the best feeling ever. I'm really happy my team is behind me to get all the other goals and play good defense."

Los Alamitos (6-1) reached the finals despite playing without high-scoring senior Stephanie Mutafyan, who is with Team USA at the FINA world youth championships in Perth, Australia.

But the top-seeded Griffins could have used "Big Shot Val" for the final seconds of regulation. A promising, cross-cage lob by Corinna Toledo from 8 meters bounced off a side-post and floated in front of the El Toro goal before keeper Emily Browning grabbed the ball to preserve the victory.

"I thought we've grown a lot this tournament ... especially on the offensive end," Los Alamitos coach Dave Carlson said.

Third-seeded El Toro showed an improved resolve throughout the tournament. The Chargers led Los Alamitos by three goals twice in the second period but the Griffins appeared to have the momentum when they took their first lead, 7-6, late in the third. Los Alamitos' Sarah Siepker netted a power-play strike with 1:50 left in the third.

But El Toro responded with a counterattack strike by sophomore Ashley Riley with 35 seconds left in the period for a 7-7 tie.

In the fourth, Browning made five of her 11 saves to support Spezzaferri and help the Chargers emerge with another dramatic victory.

“It really shows which team wants it more toward the end,” Spezzaferri said of the dramatic endings. “You really have to want it to win, and that’s what we showed today. We definitely try to stay positive with each other no matter what.”

Spezzaferri was open for the game-winner against Los Alamitos thanks to the extra coverage Allison Skaggs drew at center. Delaney Riley scored three goals to pace El Toro.

Siepker, Becca Corb and Ella Weber each scored twice for Los Alamitos.

In other tournaments:

At the El Nino Cup: La Jolla captured the tournament title.

At the Los Altos tournament: Sunny Hills defeated Walnut, 9-5, in the finals to improve to 11-0.

Contact the writer: dalbano@ocregister.com


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