For the second year in a row, the Los Banos High girls water polo team is the Western Athletic Conference champion.
This year, though, the Tigers went undefeated in league play after finishing the season with a 9-3 win over Pacheco on Wednesday.
“I think it’s so surreal. I can’t believe we’re undefeated,” senior Cheyenne Ritchey said. “I was so nervous for this game today, I didn’t eat all day. I was so nervous, and one of our key players (Alex Marquez) was gone for a trip, and she’s our sprinter, so I had to take that position. She’s our sprinter that starts out each quarter, but she’s on a trip, so I had to take over the sprinter position, and I was really nervous for that. I haven’t sprinted since, like, sophomore year.
“That was intense, but I had a good backup player, because Alex wasn’t here, so Caitlin (Downward) stepped up a lot. I’m really proud of her, especially being a freshman.”
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Ritchey did her team proud, giving the Tigers possession at the start of all four quarters.
The 2012 Tigers won league, but with one loss – to Central Catholic, which was coached by current LB coach Bo Halpin.
“We lost to Halpin last year. He’s the one who made us not undefeated,” Ritchey said. “We joke about that. He’s like, ‘Yeah, that was my good coaching skills.’ ”
Los Banos started strong, leading 2-0 after the first quarter on goals from Mackenzie Hurley and Downward. The Tigers jumped out to a 6-0 advantage (with three goals each from Hurley and Downward) before Elissa Martinez put Pacheco on the board with 3:34 remaining in the half, hitting the far post from the perimeter.
“Different coaches have different things they like to work on, and (Halpin) noticed that our first quarters are always really hard,” Ritchey said. “I don’t know why, but we always have really bad first quarters. I think it’s because we underestimate the game a little bit. So we push harder and try to get that score up. He knows that we have a really bad first quarter, and he tries to tell us, ‘Hey guys, step it up.’
“...He’s a really good coach. I really like him, and I’m kind of upset that I only got him for one year. I want to be selfish and take him with me.”
Cristina Vance scored near the end of the first half for the Tigers, and Ritchey and Kaylan Burke each added one in the second half. Martinez and Olivia Andrade each scored one for the Panthers after the break.
Pacheco needed victories on Monday and Wednesday to qualify for the WAC’s second playoff spot, but a 12-10 overtime loss on Monday took the Panthers out of contention. Still, it was a long way from last year’s two-win record.
“Last year, they were more aggressive than strategic, and they just wanted to beat you up, and that’s why the game was hard,” Ritchey said. “This year they have a lot of good swimmers that I’m glad I can say I swam with some of them when we were little, and I’m swimming against them now in water polo.”