The stage is set for a crosstown showdown on Friday night.
Both the Atwater and Buhach Colony High boys water polo teams did their part to set it up. Coaches for both teams emptied their benches early in a pair of playoff routs at Buhach Colony High on Wednesday.
First up was the sixth-seeded Falcons (18-11), who disposed of an outgunned No. 11 seed Napa 18-4 in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division II playoffs.
The third-seeded Thunder (22-6) left little doubt in their game against No. 14 Ceres with a 16-2 win.
“The guys in there at the end are the guys who help us in practice every day. That’s why we’re good,” said Buhach Colony coach Dan McIlhatton. “To get those guys playing time tonight is fantastic.”
On Friday Atwater will square off against Buhach Colony at Buhach Colony High at 5:30 p.m.
“Neither of us wanted to look too far,” said Falcons coach David Svendsen. “But we both saw the potential matchup on Friday night. It’s going to be loud here. I don’t want to say I feel bad for Buhach, but it’s not going to be much of a home game advantage. There’s going to be a lot of Atwater fans here.
“I love seeing the community come out and support water polo.”
It’ll be the fourth time the two teams have played each other this season. Buhach Colony has won the previous three and all of the games were close, including the Thunder’s 11-8 win over Atwater last week that clinched a Central California Conference championship.
“It’s going to be a madhouse,” McIlhatton said. “It’s not often crosstown rivals get to play each other in the playoffs.”
What makes the rivalry fun is the players know each other so well. Many of the players spend most of the offseason playing together on the same club team coached by Svendsen.
“The kids play all year long and they’re really only opponents for two league games,” Svendsen said. “The rest of the time they’re teammates. They’re very familiar with each other.”
Svendsen said the biggest reason the Thunder have won the previous three matchups is their ability to take away Atwater star Connor Norton.
The Falcons senior scored six goals against Napa despite sitting out the bulk of the second half. Luke van Warmerdam added four goals for Atwater as the Falcons used an 13-0 run to break open an early 2-2 tie.
“We have to stop their main two guys Connor and Luke,” McIlhatton said. “They’re two really good players. We have to key on them and hope we don’t get beat by the rest of their guys.”
Luke Bird, Zach Fookes and Kyle Hoffart each scored three goals in the Thunder’s victory over Ceres.
You bet the Thunder have now turned their attention to the Falcons.
“There was a lot of people at the game at Atwater,” Bird said. “It’s fun when a lot people come out and cheer. Everyone knows it’s going to be a good game. I think both teams will be pumped up even more because it’s the playoffs.”