SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -The Santa Barbara City College Women's Water Polo team won their second consecutive state championship this weekend, finishing off one of the most accomplished seasons in 3C2A history.
The 37-1 season—undefeated against 3C2A opponents—makes this Vaqueros team the winningest team in state history. No team had previously won more than 35.
It also makes SBCC the first repeat champions since Golden West did it a decade ago in the 2012-13 seasons. Furthermore, the state title is SBCC's third in the last six seasons, even more striking considering the program has only existed since 2014.
"I've been lucky to coach a lot of wonderful people and their families over the years," head coach Chuckie Roth said sentimentally. "But this was a first. I've never coached an undefeated season. … Yeah, I'm a little nostalgic. We managed pressure all year and faced a ton of adversity but pulled through."
The weekend began at College of Marin's Miwok Aquatic Center on Thursday with a quarterfinal win over North 4-seed Merced, a 17-3 rout.
After the first quarter ended 4-2, goals from each team early in the second made it 5-3. That would be the closest the game would get, as the Vaqueros would score a whopping 12 unanswered goals to close out the win. SBCC's defense would not allow a goal the last 23 minutes of the match.
Natalie Mancinelli, Claire Daland, Esther Sullivan, and Cate Daland all scored 3 goals. Sofia Paez also scored twice. Mancinelli had 3 assists, while Maddie Myers dished 2.
Lily Carrick had 5 steals to lead the team, with Claire Daland, Gabi Turnbull, and Tayten Neiderhiser all swiping 3. Erin Otsuki, Gabrielle Muehring, and Taylor Classen each stole 2.
That set up a state semifinal match against North 2-seed Sierra on Friday afternoon. The Vaqueros had twice beaten Sierra earlier in the year, 11-6 and 11-5.
The match started with Cate Daland scoring a beautiful goal from distance less than 30 seconds in, assisted by Addie Lane. Lane followed that up with a goal, herself, a few minutes later, assisted by Maddie Myers. The Vaqueros dominated the flow of first quarter, but had just a 2-0 lead to show for it after multiple shots were just wide of the cage. However, out of a timeout with 17 seconds to go, Roth drew up a play to free up Natalie Mancinelli on the far post, and Lily Carrick found her to give SBCC a more comfortable 3-0 advantage.
Cate Daland once again opened the scoring in the second quarter with another assist from Lily Carrick, but Sierra struck back on their next possession to make it 4-1 Vaqueros. Carrick broke free with 2 minutes left before halftime and slotted home; the 5-1 lead would hold into halftime. The incredible Vaqueros defense had allowed just 1 goal by halftime in a state semifinal game.
"Our defense is so good," Roth said. "We get steals, we control ball movement, and have quick reactions."
Out of the break, Natalie Mancinelli found Gabrielle Muehring to pad the Vaqueros lead. However, things would suddenly get difficult for SBCC in multiple ways.
Rain began to pour, and the 6-1 lead shrunk to a 6-4 lead thanks to 3 Sierra goals in under four minutes. After the third period ended, just as the referees were about to signal the start of the fourth, lightning struck and thunder shortly followed. Mother Nature had prompted a 30-minute lightning delay, and each team had to sit around for at least a half hour.
The Vaqueros sought shelter in a small weight room adjacent to the College of Marin pool and waited for the green light from tournament officials.
"[We talked about] being present in the moment and letting the past go," Roth said, using the delay to turn the page from the tough end to the third period.
Dark clouds remained but the lightning and rain had passed, and both teams came back out to play just the one last period. Gabrielle Muehring opened the scoring with an assist from Caroline Oates, and Cate Daland assisted Addie Lane shortly after to give the Vaqueros an 8-4 lead—and the momentum back.
Sierra would score, but Addie Lane scored again, with Caroline Oates assisting again, to lengthen the lead to 9-5 and ice the game. Nearly two and a half hours later, after literally and figuratively weathering the storm, SBCC would punch their ticket to their third straight 3C2A championship game.
Addie Lane led all scorers with 3 goals, with Gabrielle Muehring and Cate Daland contributing 2. Caroline Oates and Lily Carrick each had 2 assists.
Claire Daland might have set a SBCC single game and/or 3C2A state championship tournament record with a massive 10 steals—regardless, the WSC Player of the Year led the brick wall Vaquero defense on the day. Lily Carrick also had 5 steals; Addie Lane had 4.
The win was a historic one for the Vaqueros, as they became the first women's water polo team in 3C2A history (complete records go back to 2007) to reach 36 wins in a season.
"Our mission is more about tomorrow, but it's an honor," Roth said, on being the winningest team in 3C2A history. "The commitment to 38 games is a lot compared to 25 or so."
SBCC eclipsed Riverside's 2007 and Fullerton's 2014 teams who both went 35-0. SBCC volunteer assistant coach Pete Snyder was also on the coaching staff for Fullerton's 2014 team.
In the final on Saturday, SBCC was tasked with beating a familiar foe in South 2-seed Riverside (28-4). The state championship was not only a rematch of the SoCal Regionals final from the previous weekend, but the fifth matchup overall between the two teams. SBCC was previously 4-0 against Riverside, who were undefeated against all other opponents.
The game began slowly offensively, but dominant defensively. Cate Daland scored with a Lily Carrick assist, and Riverside scored themselves, but that would be all the scoring in the scrappy 1-1 first quarter.
To start the second period, Lily Carrick again had an assist, this time with Natalie Mancinelli slotting home. Caroline Oates tacked on another one from a Claire Daland assist to give the Vaqueros a 3-1 lead midway through the quarter. Things got a tad dicey defensively, though, as starters Addie Lane and Lily Carrick both were in foul trouble with 2 exclusions.
Then, sophomore Gabrielle Muehring—playing her last game in an SBCC cap—smartly caught the defense sleeping, scoring on the near post.
"Just a great read in the moment," Roth said. "That was all her."
Claire Daland scored a minute later with a Maddie Myers assist to give the Vaqueros a 5-1 advantage.
Riverside scored a goal with 25 seconds left before halftime, and both teams would head to the break with SBCC leading 5-2. The stalwart Vaqueros defense had only allowed 3 goals in the first halves of the semifinal and final combined.
"Our versatility defensively was a deciding factor in the game," Roth said.
Out of halftime, Riverside scored 2 goals early to make the score a more competitive 5-4. However, Addie Lane and the Daland sisters steadied the ship midway through the quarter, with Lane assisting Claire and then Cate less than a minute apart. Riverside would score again to keep things close; around that time, Addie Lane got called for her third exclusion and Caroline Oates took her second.
With that 7-5 score and multiple Vaqueros in foul trouble, Riverside was goal hungry. They nearly scored twice, but goalie Kate Densmore blocked two consecutive shots with her face to keep Riverside out of the goal. The Vaqueros took the 2-goal lead into the fourth quarter, 8 minutes away from perfection.
With less than a minute left in the fourth quarter, the score was still 7-5. Sophomore Natalie Mancinelli, also playing her last game as a Vaquero, was free on goal with less than a minute left. Instead of shooting immediately, she smartly looked up at the clock and drained every second off the shot clock before finding the back of the cage, like a champion.
"So much maturity and poise from Natalie there. That basically solidified the game for us," Roth said.
The Vaqueros' absolutely phenomenal defense continued the last 40 seconds, shutting out Riverside in the final frame. The 8-5 win closed the book on one of the best water polo seasons in state history.
Celebrations began, with all 15 Vaqueros and the coaching staff victoriously jumping in the pool.
Sophomore Claire Daland capped off her phenomenal career leading the Vaqueros with 3 goals, as did Natalie Mancinelli with 2. Addie Lane and Lily Carrick each had 2 assists.
Claire Daland also was great defensively, of course, with 5 steals and 3 crucial blocks. Caroline Oates had 4 steals, and Addie Lane and Cate Daland swiped 3 apiece. Lily Carrick drew 3 exclusions.
Goalie Kate Densmore finished her great freshman year—playing every minute of the Vaqueros season in goal—with a massive 11 saves and only 5 goals allowed. She also contributed 2 steals.
The state championship win means sophomores Natalie Mancinelli, Claire Daland, Gabrielle Muehring, and Gabi Turnbull become the first class at SBCC to be crowned Women's Water Polo state champions in both of their seasons at the school.
"A lot of people say you're as good as your sophomores," Roth added. "They obviously helped us a ton today." Caroline Oates deserves mention in that group of studs, as well.
SBCC has solidified itself as the premier water polo program in California, and with a solid foundation in the current freshman class, one does not expect they will be slowing down anytime soon.
(Article courtesy of SBCC Athletics)