ATWATER — Josh Heller says an hour of the Atwater boys water polo team's practice is dedicated to the counterattack everyday.
It's easy to see why.
The Falcons press their opponents defensively and then get out in numbers on the counter.
It's a style that's going to wear on the best of opponents, because the moment a team takes a sequence or two off while getting back in transition, Atwater goes on a scoring run.
Golden Valley learned that the hard way on Wednesday night as the Falcons used fast starts in the first and third quarters to pull out a comfortable 16-7 victory in a battle of Central California conference powers.
"We press and we counter. That's our game," Atwater coach David Svendson said. "We know we've got guys that can swim and we feel like we can get numbers up into the attack.
"If a team gets a little lazy, we're going to exploit it.
"Connor Hoppe is probably the best shooter in the whole league, and Nick Gargov and Patrick Koenig are very good players, too.
"We felt like our four, five and six guys were a little better than theirs. So if we could limit the damage of those three, we liked our chances."
It was all Atwater, and more specifically Heller, to open the game.
The Falcons' (13-1, 4-0 CCC) defense was swarming, not allowing Golden Valley a shot until there was a minute left in the opening quarter.
The high-pressure defense led to numerous turnovers and Atwater showed off its transition game with Heller (game-high six goals, two assists, five steals) providing a first-quarter hat trick. It was sandwiched around goals from Ben Peterson (five goals, two assists, four steals) and Jordan Esparza as the Falcons built a 5-0 lead.
Golden Valley (7-3, 3-1 CCC) finally got its offense going with some man-up situations to close the first quarter. Hoppe and Chris Moranda each found the net to make it 5-2 at the end of the first quarter.
"Going down 5-0 just takes the wind right out of you," Cougars coach Chad Parreira said. "I was proud of the way the guys fought back, but we turned it over 27 times.
"You can't take care of the ball like that against a good team like Atwater and hope to win."
Hoppe opened the scoring in the second quarter with a goal to make it 5-3, but that was as close as GV would get.
Atwater pushed its lead to 9-4 at intermission and then put the game away with a dominant 5-0 third quarter. Brody Patterson (three assists) was the catalyst, scoring all four of his goals in the quarter.
"I think we really fed off of the crowd's energy to start the second half," Heller said. "You hear the entire student section chanting your names; it gets the adrenaline going."
It was the GV faithful who had something to cheer about in the girls game.
Cougars coach Bill Gossett gave Anna Neufeld the green light to fire away from all over and the sophomore did just that.
Setting up on the top of the left wing, Neufeld put home four goals including the game's last two in a 6-4 victory over the Falcons (2-2 CCC).
Nicole Goodnight provided all of Atwater's offense with four goals and Audrey DeBard had nine big saves for Golden Valley (10-0, 4-0 CCC), the final two on kickout situations in the fourth quarter.
Merced 12, Turlock 1
Katherine Elgin had four goals and two assists to help keep the Merced girls undefeated in CCC play and set up a 4-0 showdown with GV next week.
Buhach Colony 7, Pitman 5
TURLOCK Casey Bowers-Louffier's two goals and Kaiden Verdin's 16 saves helped the Thunder (1-3 CCC) overcome a 3-1 deficit on the road.