The winning coach fought back prideful tears after the game. The player who scored the winning goal called it “probably the biggest adrenaline rush of (his) whole entire life.”
And the maroon-clad half of a nearly standing-room-only crowd surrounding the pool at Arroyo Grande High rejoiced over a milestone that secured some bragging rights.
Nipomo’s Cole Holloway hurled the ball into the net with six-and-a-half seconds left in overtime Thursday afternoon, lifting the Titans to a 10-9 nonleague boys water polo win over the Eagles.
“This is huge,” Nipomo goalkeeper Kirk Wilenius said. “This was marked on the calendars since December. This is great. It was such a big game for us.”
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Or, as Holloway appraised: “Probably, besides if we advance (far into the playoffs), the biggest win we’ll have all year. I would say easily the biggest win.”
The Titans (4-0), who were ranked No. 3 in this week’s CIF-Southern Section Division 7 poll, brought a senior-heavy squad into this season. Almost two years ago to the day, several of them played as sophomores in an 18-4 home loss to Arroyo Grande.
“I feel like I’m related to them, like a family member who’s so proud of their nephew or their son or their brother,” Nipomo coach Justin Jewell said.
Overcome by emotion, Jewell choked up when asked how special the accomplishment was. “They’ve worked extremely hard,” he said.
Last year Nipomo finished 19-8 overall after falling to Nogales High of La Puente, 7-3, in the semifinals of the playoffs. So while Los Padres League title hopes and another postseason run are the end objectives for Nipomo, Thursday’s result against a school with almost twice its enrollment was symbolic of the growth the program has forged. The win was made even sweeter by the obvious connection between the two campuses separated by a brief South County drive.
It was Nipomo’s first win ever over the Eagles.
“I have the utmost respect for A.G.’s players and their coach,” Jewell said. “(Arroyo Grande coach) Steven (Allen) has been by my side for the last five years, kind of helping me.
“There’s no negative rivalry,” Jewell said. “It’s all a good one. I think there’s a lot of players from both teams that congratulated each other during handshakes. They’re friends. They’re close. Some of them live a block away from each other.”
Derek Seaman set up Holloway on his game-winner.
“Bliss,” said Holloway, whose last goal was his fourth of the contest. “I almost passed out I was so happy.”
The Titans repeatedly got boosts from Wilenius, a 6-foot-6 senior who said he was “dead tired” after making nine blocks.
“He had one of the most amazing games I’ve ever seen him play,” Holloway said. “He was shut-down. He was lights-out.”
The Eagles (0-1), the ninth-ranked team in Division 4, have numerous sophomores playing at key positions this season. Nick Chapman, Dennis Meffert, Jack Empey and Tanner Sandman all had two goals apiece for Arroyo Grande, and Nick Ruiz tallied one.
Clint Doucette made five saves in goal for Arroyo Grande, and Chandler Mankins had eight.
“We had opportunities to kind of seal the deal late in the game in the fourth quarter and overtime,” Allen said, “but we couldn’t quite finish.”
Last year’s playoff appearance was the first in Nipomo history, but another one looks likely after four season-opening wins over PAC 7 foes.
“As a coach, I knew that they would be just blossoming their junior years,” Jewell said. “So I knew if I could get them as far as possible their junior years, I knew their senior years they would come back and be more mature, and be strong and powerful. It took four years for them to figure that out, that you have to be mature to win a good water polo game. You can’t run off emotions; save those for after the game.”
Nogales, which is again ranked No. 1 in the division, went on to win the title in 2010, 15-8, over then-Los Padres League champion Santa Ynez. Although the Pirates look strong again this year, ranked No. 2 in the division, the fact that just four of last year’s 18 players on Nipomo’s roster were lost has the Titans feeling strong about their chances.
“We’re happy with where we stand right now,” Holloway said. “We’re hoping for the finals. We’re shooting for big-time, far advancement.”