The Atwater boys water polo team proved time and again it can close out a game during Central California Conference play.
No team performed better in the clutch than the Falcons as they ran off an unexpected undefeated campaign.
Starting fast, has been another matter.
Tired of seeing his team turn it on late out of necessity, Atwater coach David Svendsen made a fast start a point of emphasis heading into Thursday night’s Sac-Joaquin Section Division II quarterfinal match against Oakmont.
Perhaps Svendsen should have asked sooner. Led by Connor Norton and Luke van Warmerdam, Atwater opened the game with three goals in three possessions. The Falcons held a six-goal lead after one quarter and were not threatened the rest of the way in 13-5 victory at Buhach Colony’s pool.
Third-seeded Atwater (24-7) will square off against No. 2 Rocklin in the semifinals on Tuesday. The match is set for 12:45 p.m. at Johansen High.
“A fast start was 100 percent the emphasis coming into this game,” Svendsen said. “We’ve shown we can bring up our energy later, but it shouldn’t be that way. We need to start up and keep after a team throughout. That all starts with our defense.
“We did a solid job moving the ball and getting out in transition, but that was all set up by our playing good defense. I always tell the guys let our offense be set up by our defense, and we did a good job of that in the first quarter.”
Atwater had a swimming edge, and pressed it from the onset, getting numbers in transition and unselfishly moving the ball to the open player. Norton (one assist, four steals) and van Warmerdam (two assists, four steals) set the tone, each scoring two of their game-high four goals in the opening quarter.
“We were pumped up,” Norton said. “We knew our seeding was really good from how we were placed in the tournament and we were excited to host a playoff game. We got knocked out in the second round last year, so we were pumped up and ready to go.
“The goal was to get our second string in, because they don’t always get as much time as the starters. We wanted to a good lead and get them some playing time.”
With the game well in hand, Atwater eased off the offensive gas in the second and third quarters. The Falcons were content to work the shot clock and try to set things up in their half-court sets.
Svendsen didn’t allow the defensive intensity to wane, however. Oakmont’s Jacob Paiva entered the game with a team-high 139 goals on the season. No one else on the Vikings (22-13) had more than 30. The Falcons put the clamps on him, holding him to a lone breakaway goal off a bad pass in the third quarter.
“The way we’ve approached things all season is to have our best guy on their best guy,” Svendsen said. “We’ve done a good job winning the one-on-one matchups. Every guy in the pool has a job to do, and if they win more of the one-on-one battles than the other team, it tends to go pretty well.”
Atwater cranked up the transition game again in the fourth, with Elias Marquez (three goals) and Daniel Vann (one goal, three assists) putting the finishing touches on the win. Blake Brigham made 11 saves in the victory.