Despite falling behind early and occasionally looking overmatched offensively, La Jolla High School’s boys water polo team quickly turned things around in its Sept. 23 match against Bonita Vista of Chula Vista.
The Vikings rebounded from a two-goal first-quarter deficit and held off a late Bonita charge to upend the Barons, 8-7 at the Coggan Family Aquatic Complex.
La Jolla didn’t lead until midway through the fourth quarter, but out-scored Bonita, 3-1 in the final frame to hold on for the win. The Vikings improved to 3-0 on the young season.
“I think our conditioning paid off, and we definitely had a better second half,” La Jolla Coach Tom Atwell said. “We were a little out of synch in that first half. I was proud that our guys hung in there and took care of it at the end, in the second half.”
The Vikings trailed, 3-1 at the end of the first quarter after Bonita’s Ryan Allred netted a pair of goals and Brett Hays added one. La Jolla inched closer on Grant LeBeau’s second-quarter goal, his second of the game, but didn’t really turn it on until after halftime.
A LeBeau goal and one from Matt Exter with 14 seconds left in the third quarter tied the game at 5, though Bonita snuck one in on a long shot from Hays and took a 6-5 lead just before the end of the third.
La Jolla’s Andrew Schaffer tied it at 6 with a goal at 6:06 in the fourth quarter, and LeBeau gave the Vikings their first lead when he converted a penalty shot with 4:47 left. Jimmy Wall added some insurance with a breakaway goal up the right side with 4:07 left.
Bonita’s Allred scored again with 2:41 left, but the Vikings defense made some key stops to keep the visitors from tying late in the game. Exter made a steal in the middle of the pool with less than 1:30 left, essentially sealing the win for the Vikings.
“Matt is not a starter, but earned a lot of minutes. He had his head up and knew where the ball was,” Atwell said. “He did a great job.”
LeBeau led La Jolla with four goals. Trapper Felt, Exter, Schaffer and Wall each had one. Allred (4) and Hays (3) were the only players to score for Bonita.
“Grant did a great job at 2 meters. He drew a lot of ejections at four meters, and then put a couple key shots away in that second half,” Atwell said. “Jimmy Wall is not normally a starter either, but I had three starters out either for injury or discipline. He stepped up and earned himself some more playing time.”
Bonita clearly dominated the game’s first half, controlling possession and generating more solid scoring opportunities than La Jolla. The Vikings seemed to be forcing shots, and when they did get selective about their shots, had the shot clock run out.
“I don’t think we were very patient on offense (in the first half),” Atwell said. “We took a lot of chances with the ball, especially throwing the ball away in transition. We had good shot selection, but they just weren’t going in. We were sailing everything over the cage. I think once we found our range with the goal and were a little more patient to get the ball in closer at 2 meters and get some better looks, we got back in the game.”
Often teams that play good defense create opportunities offensively by doing so. La Jolla’s transition game was strong throughout the game, and that had a lot to do with its play in its own end of the pool.
The Vikings didn’t allow Bonita to penetrate the interior, which meant most of the Barons’ shots were from long range.
“Our forte is that we play good defense, and hopefully we generate some offense out of that good defense,” Atwell said. “We never went to a zone, and played man-to-man and pressed pretty much the whole time. It took a lot of work out of them, but they showed their conditioning by being able to press the whole game and not having to drop back into a zone.”
Aside from being good defensively, the Vikings got a clutch performance out of goalie Grant Cooper. He made a number of tough saves in the second half, including one with 34 seconds left on a shot that could have sent the game to overtime.
“Grant Cooper had a couple key blocks at the end of the second quarter and then again at the end of the third quarter,” Atwell said. “He made a couple key saves to keep the momentum. When we were down by one or tied, he really kept us in it.”