Atwater coach David Svendsen talks about Falcons big win over Merced
From the minute Atwater’s Connor Norton arrived at Merced High School on Wednesday afternoon, he was ready for the big matchup.
The junior had been thinking about it all day.
It showed when he entered the pool as Norton scored seven goals to lead the Falcons to an 11-9 win over the Bears to help Atwater remain atop the Central California Conference at 5-0.
“He plays big games. He steps up in big situations,” said Atwater coach David Svendsen, whose team improved to 12-6 overall. “He was locked in and ready to go. Second period this morning he was coming in my room, talking about plays that we were going to run. I had to calm him down a little bit. ‘Hey, you need to just relax, relax.’ He was just nervous. He puts so much pressure on himself.”
Norton spent his morning going over his plan for how to attack the Bears (10-5, 3-2).
“We talked about everything,” Norton said. “What to do, when I was going to do it and when to shoot. I wanted to step it up and beat Merced. I’m going to say this was our biggest game of the year. Going into it, we were kind of nervous.”
Norton helped calm the nerves with three first-quarter goals to give the Falcons a 3-2 lead heading into the second period.
He added two more early in the second quarter, and his steal and assist led to a goal by Elias Marquez to give Atwater a 6-3 lead with 4:32 left in the first half.
With Merced star Abraham Santana orchestrating the offense, the Bears worked their way back. The Falcons held Santana to three goals, but he also finished with six assists and two steals.
Hayden Giebeler scored three goals for Merced and Drew Hinman added two as the Bears pulled within two goals at halftime and within 8-7 after three quarters. Close games are par for the course when these teams square off, so Svendsen and the Falcons knew they were in for a battle.
“Every single one of these games is two goals,” Svendsen said. “We were fortunate to end this one in regulation this year. We’ve (had) three or four of these in overtime. Merced is such a well-coached team, a well-balanced team. You’ve got the best player in the league in the pool in Abraham Santana. He’s a great player. We coach him all summer (in club water polo) so we know what he can do. We know how he can take over a game.”
Norton helped the Falcons put the game away when he turned two steals into two quick goals in transition, putting Atwater up 10-8 with 4:52 left and 11-9 with 2:59 remaining.
“The league has been that way,” Merced coach Kit Grattan said. “It was a tough game. A couple incidents late turned the game. Connor stole the ball from Abraham and scored and stole the ball from Damon (Ladousier) and Connor scored again. That’s two scores and it’s the difference in the game.”
Luke van Warmerdam had one goal, three assists and three steals for the Falcons. Dalton Hoofard, Daniel Vann and Norton also finished with three steals.
“Starting 5-0 is good; it’s nice to put some distance between some of these teams,” Svendsen said. “It’s nice to create some separation early. We had three games at home, smaller pools for us, so the second half will be a challenge for us.”
Grattan knows Merced can come back and finish at the top. The Bears have done it before.
“The guys are taking it hard, but we’ve lost games before and still won the league,” Grattan said. “I told them, ‘You’re representing yourself, and you’re representing your school, so do your best.’ Our goal is to win every game from here on out.”
Turlock 7, Buhach Colony 5 in Atwater – The Thunder dropped to 3-2 in the CCC despite two goals from Joe Bustabade and 11 saves from Daniel Navarro.
El Capitan 10, Pitman 7 in Turlock – Evan Spiva paced the Gauchos (2-4 CCC) with three goals, four assists and three steals while teammate Braiden Ward stopped 11 shots.
Los Banos 13, Livingston 9 in Los Banos – The Tigers were led by Kyle Burke, who poured in eight goals.
Girls water polo
Buhach Colony 14, Turlock 7 in Atwater – Gwynne McBride and Pam Solano each turned in big performances to lift the Thunder to 4-1 in the CCC and 14-7 overall. McBride finished with three goals, four assists and nine steals. Solano recorded four goals, three assists and nine steals.
Merced 8, Atwater 7 in Merced – Sophia Hart scored three goals and Stephanie Hart added two goals and two assists as the Bears (1-4 CCC) picked up their first conference victory.
El Capitan 11, Pitman 8 in Turlock – Makenzie Wenham scored four goals and finished with three steals to help the Gauchos improve to 6-0 in the CCC. Marion Carpenter added three goals for El Capitan.
Los Banos 15, Livingston 4 in Los Banos – Kaitlin Downward scored five goals and finished with two steals to lead the Tigers. Savannah Valenzuela added two goals and four steals for Los Banos.
Le Grand 3, Waterford 0 in Waterford – Arisbeth Ceja’s 12 kills and three blocks paced the Bulldogs (6-3, 4-2 Southern League) in a 25-9, 25-16, 25-16 victory over the Wildcats.