No dry eyes on senior night

Hounds finish 4-1 in league

ATASCADERO — The stage was set perfectly for a Cinderella ending. The team with the 130+ game league winning streak comes to play the small school that hasn’t won league in at least seven years. The small school’s team is made up primarily of seniors who joined the varsity as sophomores vowing to take down the juggernaut someday, and in the last game of the season they meet on senior night.

In this adaptation the juggernaut would be the Arroyo Grande Eagles girls water polo team and the small underdog would be the Atascadero Greyhounds. For the first time in seven years the Hounds took down Righetti, and they did it at home. They traveled to Paso and beat the Bearcats, something the seniors on the team also hadn’t done.

The Greyhounds watched as Paso took AG to the limit, barely escaping with a one-point victory in their shallow/deep pool. Atascadero and Paso are the only schools in PAC 8 with a shallow/deep pool and the Hounds knew they would have an advantage over the Eagles.

The stands at the Atascadero pool were at capacity. Parents and friends were packed in like sardines to get a spot to cheer on the team. There was a buzz on the pool deck that hasn’t been there in years.

The Hounds started off playing offense in the shallow end, trying to use any advantage they might have. Tina Bell recorded save after save in the first quarter, each one accompanied by an “ohhh” or an “ahhh” from the crowd.

AG finally snuck one past Bell and led at the end of the first quarter, 1-0. Atascadero was playing uninspired offensively in the first half, and at the time the difference in speed was evident.  As the game drew on and the score stayed close, the tension rose. Head Coach Jon Conrad was issued a yellow card in the second quarter after disagreeing with a call.

The Eagles drew a kick out on Evy Cooper with 3:00 left in the second quarter and quickly scored while a man up. A minute later the Hounds had their best opportunity to score in the first half when Summer Tietje found herself with the ball right in front of the goalie. She tried to shoot into the bottom corner, but the AG goalie stopped it.

The atmosphere was building toward an eruption. The stadium was ready to go berzerk if the Hounds could score, but when the save was made, everyone, including the players, seemed to be just a little deflated.

That momentary lapse in confidence is all the Eagles needed. AG added two quick goals at the end of the quarter and led at halftime, 4-0. Tietje did score the first goal of the second half and the celebration did not disappoint. The Hounds lost the game 7-3, but not a single player hung their head.

Like the scene from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” when the Grinch is waiting for the town to cry at the loss of their presents, the Arroyo Grande team was waiting for the Hounds to accept their defeat, but it never came. Seconds after the game ended the pool deck was covered in nothing but smiles, tears, and hugs.

“I'm so happy right now,” senior Alli Marshall said. “Even though we lost, the people I ended the game with are my family, so no matter what it feels like a win for me. I'm really not disappointed, it feels like a win to me because we played our best and didn't get mental, we stuck to it and just cheered each other on and we were having fun.”

Marshall scored the water polo equivalent of a half-court buzzer beater at the end of the third quarter that literally had students dancing in the corners of the pool area.

“I was shaking so much,” she said. “It was so good. I went to shoot it and I was like, ‘Oh God there goes my dignity’ then I made it and I.. it felt good.”

Atascadero held their senior night festivities until after the conclusion of the game and the celebration spilled out into the quad.

“We have some of the best fans around in water polo,” Conrad said. “I love the families that come out and support. It’s just, it’s AG, man. They have that stifling defense and they are so fast.”

Keara Kaczmarek added the Hounds other goal on a five-meter penalty shot in the fourth quarter. The Hounds finish the season 16-7 and 4-1 in the PAC 8 with the league tournament coming up.


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