DANA POINT – The San Clemente girls water polo program has not lost a South Coast League game since 2016, with the Tritons blowing away nearly every opponent by double-digits in the last three seasons.
Dana Hills didn’t break that league streak or their decade-plus streak against San Clemente, but the Dolphins put up the best fight in the South Coast League this season.
Dana Hills struck first, but San Clemente’s physical defense and quick ball movement pushed the Tritons out to yet another South Coast League victory, 11-5, on Saturday, Jan. 21, at Dana Hills High School.
Both teams looked at their miscues with the extra attacker, with Dana Hills (17-6, 2-1) seeing a missed opportunity to steal a league victory and San Clemente (11-8, 4-0) missing a chance to get sharper for its eventual run in the CIF-SS Division 1 playoffs.
“We’re a pretty talented team, you know?” San Clemente coach Logan Powell said. “So, it’s hard, if we go talent-to-talent, it’s hard to beat us in league. We’re just trying to tighten down a couple things. We were 2-for-11 on 6-on-5 today, and that realm that we’re trying to compete in, you’re not going to win close games going 2-for-11. We’re focusing on the fundamentals, balance and passing.”
Like many top teams, San Clemente intersperses high-level tournaments between league weeks to see other top competition to prepare for the playoffs.
Dana Hills came off its own strong tournament run in Oxnard last weekend, and while this loss snapped a seven-game win streak, it was a positive showing for the Dolphins, who look to make their own run in the CIF-SS Division 2 playoffs. The six-goal margin of defeat was the second smallest by San Clemente in the past four league seasons.
“There’s a lot of positive,” Dana Hills coach Carrie Pierce Ross said. “No one’s played them that close this whole league season. Knowing that we have another round, knowing if we can cut down on some of our exclusions and defensive errors and put away our 6-on-5’s when we’re working so hard to draw them, either way, it’s going to be a couple goal game.”
Dana Hills, ranked No. 4 in Division 2, has still won 10 of its last 12 games, including a victory in Oxnard over No. 2 in Division 2 Ventura. While the Dolphins can and have leaned on their UC Berkeley-bound star Sadie Riester, Dana Hills has discovered more of its team game in recent weeks, and games like this against San Clemente show the need for that to grow.
“We’re going to be our best when we’re not trying to limit ourselves into one or two good looks,” Pierce Ross said. “The ability to work together, and I think that came together up in Oxnard. In that tournament, they saw that it’s possible and they’re better together.”
Riester got the game going on Saturday with a snipe two minutes in for an opening Dana Hills lead, but San Clemente found its form with a goal in each of the last four minutes of the first quarter.
Charlotte Musial fed Helene MacBeth across the cage for San Clemente’s first goal, and 20 second later, Phoebe DeMoss scored on another cross for the lead that the Tritons would not relinquish. Emmi Franklin picked a corner for the third San Clemente goal, and MacBeth scored with six seconds left for a 4-1 lead.
Riester got a second goal just 30 seconds into the second frame, but DeMoss would answer for San Clemente. Macey Punak tapped in a goal off a laser pass from Ruby Hawbecker to put San Clemente up by four goals. Franklin scored just before halftime for a 7-2 Triton lead.
In the third quarter, Emma McCulloch scored on a floater, but Dana Hills couldn’t capitalize on consecutive 6-on-3 advantages to pull any closer. MacBeth scored her third and fourth goals to bookend the quarter for San Clemente.
“She’s our leading scorer,” Powell said of MacBeth, “but I think it’s all the other things she does, as well. Take her away, and maybe some of the other girls wouldn’t defer to her as much or fill that role, but she does a lot of stuff that doesn’t make it to the stat sheet and lets us be successful. She opens up for the other girls, draws exclusions and all sorts of stuff.”
MacBeth scored a fifth goal in the fourth quarter to lead both teams. Riester, who scored 11 goals against Trabuco Hills to open league play, scored her third goal on a five-meter penalty in the fourth quarter. Emma McCulloch also scored a second goal for Dana Hills.
San Clemente starts its second run through the South Coast League at home against San Juan Hills on Tuesday, Jan. 24. The Tritons beat the Stallions, 19-5, on Jan. 10.
Dana Hills closes out its first run through league at San Juan Hills on Wednesday, Jan. 25. The Dolphins will travel to San Clemente to close the regular season on Feb. 1.