Hounds making history: Atascadero girls water polo finishes tied for 2nd in PAC 8


ARROYO GRANDE — The sound of the horn indicating the end of the game was barely audible as the cheers and screams echoed off the churned up water last night at Arroyo Grande High School. For the first time, maybe ever, certainly in as long a time as anyone can remember, the Atascadero girls water polo team are second in the PAC 8.

Even though a water polo game had just ended, it seemed the water on the pool deck came from the tears of happy Greyhounds. Shortly after, the “click” of camera shutters filled the brisk night air as swim caps were peeled off to reveal matted down, tangled, chlorine-bleached hair atop the biggest smiles that could be mustered.

“It feels really good, I can't even explain it right now,” Ali Marshall said.

For the third consecutive year the third-place game for girls water polo in the PAC 8 was between Atascadero and Paso Robles, but this game, this season, and this team were different.

This year the Hounds beat Righetti, something that they hadn’t done in seven years, during regular season play. In each of the past two seasons the Greyhounds have been forced play the Bearcats in Paso due to scheduling conflicts, and again did so this season. But, what has been a natural stumbling block for the Greyhounds in years past, served as a launching pad this season and propelled them into the PAC 8 tournament with confidence.

The team talked all season about keeping their focus. They stressed, “not getting mental.” Losing to Righetti on Tuesday and being knocked out of the championship game is something that would bring many teams down, but the Hounds still brought all their focus into their all too familiar game against the Bearcats.

This season was about more than wins or losses — this season was about changing the culture.

The game started off at a whirlwind speed. Paso won the ball off the opening race and: 15 seconds later Audrey Pasky had already fired her first shot. On Paso’s next possession they drew an exclusion for their first six on five of the game. The story of the entire game was the play of Atascadero’s goalie, Tina Bell. The senior standout recorded 14 saves on the day including going three-for-three on 5-meter penalty saves.

Paso drew four exclusions during the game, including one six on four, and wasn’t able to score on any of them. Late in the third quarter, Paso’s Pasky raced ahead of the pack for a one-on-one with Bell and was again denied.

“I have been coaching now for about 22 years and she is one of the best female goalies I have ever coached, she really is,” Conrad said. “She needs to keep playing somewhere. If not local then she should go abroad and play because she is a stud. She gives these girls courage to attack on offense, which is such a benefit. It is almost not fair to have someone like Tina in our cage, but I will take it.”

While Bell did make one fantastic save after another, it was clearly not the Bearcats night. The Paso Robles shooters must have hit the cage half a dozen times in the first half, but could not find the back of the net. That is when the Hounds made their move.

After being up only one point after the first quarter, the Hounds scored three consecutive goals in the second quarter to put pressure on the Bearcats. Abby Wright, Evy Cooper, and Ali Marshall each scored within a few minutes of each other and with their goals came momentum, but three is all the Hounds would need because Bell only allowed two goals the entire game.

The Hounds continued to score into the third quarter before starting to play a ball control offense. Sierra Montijo added a goal to make the score 7-2 as the final buzzer sounded and the celebration began.

“We are tied for second and we’ve never had that happen — I can’t remember the last time,” Conrad said. “I’ve been asking around and nobody knows the last time we got this far in league and I am so proud of that. I am proud of these girls. For the last couple of years, Paso has had our number in this game”

According to athletic director Sam DeRose the last time the Hounds won a league title in either men's or women's was in 1995! After finishing somewhere near the middle of the league for over a decade, the Hounds have finally climbed over the hump.

“Last time we played them during this tournament it was really really hard,” Marshall said. “And it really got to our heads but this time we really pulled it together and it feels really good.”

Updated

On Tuesday, the Greyhounds played host in their first-round game in the CIFSS playoffs at Arroyo Grande High School. The Hounds welcomed in a familiar foe in Santa Ynez, who they beat 9-5 all the way back in November.

The Hounds played with supreme confidence and were led again by the star goalie. Because of the confidence the team has in Bell they were able to tell Cooper to leak out twice in the opening minute of the game, and Bell hit her with a deep pass after corralling the shot. Cooper was all by herself, just her and the goalie and converted both to give Atascadero a quick 2-0 lead. Ali Marshall added two goals of her own and so did Bell. Yes, the goalie was tied as the top scorer in the game and surrendered as many goals as she scored. The senior standout shot four times and scored on two of them. The first goal came at the end of the shot clock, but the second one was unexpected and completely unblockable as it floated over the outstretched goalie's hands and into the top corner of the net.

Atascadero has advanced and will play Temescal Canyon on Thursday night. The Titans are 23-7 on the season and went undefeated in their league.

© 2018-Atascadero News


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