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Oak Ridge water polo season comes to an end with loss to St. Francis

By: Matt Long, Sports Editor
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Sometimes you just run into a better team and that’s what happened to Oak Ridge’s water polo teams in the Division I playoffs.

Both of Oak Ridge’s teams had solid seasons and won opening-round playoff games, but the sixth-seeded girls lost in the quarterfinals to third-seeded St. Francis, 10-4, while the ninth-seeded boys lost to top-seeded St. Mary’s, 28-9.

Oak Ridge’s girls’ team, 11-13 on the season, quickly found themselves in a battle against St. Francis (15-11) on Friday night. The Troubadours scored five goals in the first quarter, which proved to be the difference in the match. Oak Ridge played them evenly the rest of the way, being outscored 5-4.

“St. Francis is a tough team and a solid program and we’ve got a lot of respect for them,” Oak Ridge coach Patrick Foster said. “They came out aggressive and ready to play and we tried to play that way but it didn’t work out. We got things going late, but their good start was the difference.”

Neither team scored in the first few possessions, but once Caroline Wilkins (three goals) scored her first goal of the game, the floodgates opened, as the Troubies managed to find the back of the cage four more times in the opening quarter.

The Trojans failed to score in the second period, but at least they began taking shots on goal. St. Francis keeper Kate Watley was solid throughout the night, making 10 saves. St. Francis only scored twice in the second quarter and led 7-0 at the break.

St. Francis made it 8-0 before the Trojans finally got on the board with a goal by Chloe Nichols. Amelia Otero followed with another and the Trojans could have cut the lead to 8-3 if not for a Watley save on another shot by Nichols.

The Troubadours made it 10-2 before two final tallies by Nichols and Abby Scott made the final score 10-4. Oak Ridge keeper Katherine Hampton was solid in goal despite the loss, as St. Francis could have scored 15 or more were it not for her efforts.

“I’m happy with how we played,” Foster said. “The seniors played well and our freshman goalie was phenomenal. Sophomore Abby Scott scored, who was up from the JV team. We didn’t expect to get her in let alone have her score. Everyone played well.”

All in all, it was a good year for the Trojans.

“We were a little off to start the season and got off to a slower start than expected,” Foster said. “I thought we were further along than we were, but we had a lot of growing to do. We came together faster than I thought and ended the year playing well and made it to the second round of the playoffs, which tied for the best we’ve ever done in the postseason. Next year, I hope we’re a contender again and find ourselves right in the same spot battling to reach the semifinals of the playoffs.”

Oak Ridge’s boys’ team finished the season with a 10-11 record. After opening the playoffs with a 16-3 win over McClatchy, the season came to an end against top-seeded St. Mary’s, 28-9. Caleb Thoms scored four goals in the loss, while Ryan Carpenter, Ethan Scott, Ian Koopman, Garrett Hassian and Jonathan Webster also scored. Ethan Horn made five saves in goal, while Luke Van Voris made two.

“The boys had a phenomenal year, and I’m really proud of how they put it together,” Foster said. “The seniors dug in and put it all out there. They melded together faster than we thought. We beat Granite Bay for the first time, at their place even, and played Rocklin close at home.”

Thoms was a first-team all-Sierra Foothill League player, while Horn, Hassian and Scott were second-team selections. For the girls, Rachael Kowalchick, Nichols and Lauren Tilley were first-team selections, while Hampton made the second team.

“The league honored our players how we hoped “ Foster said.