Arroyo Grande wins girls water polo playoff opener

Arroyo Grande never trails in advancing to a quarterfinal game Saturday at Ayala

ajankowski@thetribunenews.comFebruary 19, 2014 

Riding a streak of seven straight trips to the CIF-Southern Section semifinals, the Arroyo Grande High girls water polo team got its quest for an eighth off to a strong start Wednesday afternoon against visiting Louisville.

The Eagles scored the first three goals and never trailed en route to an 11-6 victory.

“I think we played OK,” Arroyo Grande coach Steven Allen said. “They did some good things to keep us in check today, but we’ve just got to keep getting ready for that next level of play.”

Arroyo Grande, the fifth seed in the Division 3 playoffs, will play at fourth-seeded Ayala on Saturday.

Six different Eagles registered goals, led by three from Rebekah Hernandez. Isabella Manuelle, Melanie Popovich and Hayley Covarrubias each scored twice, but it was the perimeter defense Arroyo Grande deployed that led it to victory.

“That’s kind of our game,” Allen said. “We’re going to press really hard, hope to get some steals and get out on the counterattack.”

The Eagles hounded Louisville’s outside players immediately upon entering the zone, not allowing the Royals time to set up an attack or get the ball down low.

“We have a really strong perimeter D this year,” Manuelle said. “We keep our hips up, ready to crash whenever need be, and our goal is always to steal the ball, counter and get another goal.”

The pressure yielded instant offense late in the second quarter, when Manuelle picked the pocket of a Louisville player and sent the ball up to Covarrubias, who broke in on goal alone. The breakaway tally gave 

Arroyo Grande a 6-3 lead at halftime.

And when the Eagles (22-8) weren’t scoring in transition, they were using crisp passes and body position to keep putting the ball in the net.

Manuelle scored the first two goals of the second half, both on plays where she backed down her defender and scored from close proximity.

“She’s really turned it on for us at two meters,” Allen said. “We expect to get a couple goals out of her per game … and she’s really improved her play.”

After Kristi Alongi scored on a man-up situation for the Royals, Hernandez ripped a shot from long range, and Covarrubias floated one in with the shot clock dwindling.

“Our outside shooters really stepped up,” Manuelle said. “It’s really nice to know that (our offense) is not always going to be two-meter shooting or our outside shooters shooting. Everybody is a contributor to our scoring.”

Alana Benson and Kayla Mankins split time in goal for the Eagles. Benson made four saves, including two straight to close out the first half, and Mankins had four second-half stops as well.

Brooklyn Vander Veen and Marcela Radke also notched goals, with both coming in a three-possession spurt that put Arroyo Grande out in front 3-0 early in the first quarter.

“We didn’t really know what to expect,” against the Royals, Popovich said. “The best thing we can do when we go up against a team we don’t know is to just pull together as quickly as possible.

“As long as we all step up to the plate at the same time, we usually can pull together really quick.”

Louisville (13-11), from Woodland Hills, finished tied for second in the Mission League, but lost the tiebreaker to Notre Dame to earn the league’s third seed.

The Eagles topped the PAC 7 for the 11th straight year, and took the first playoff step toward keeping their semifinal streak intact.

“So long as we keep fighting,” Popovich said, “we’re going to have a great postseason.”


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