The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.
The goal from Day 1 for the women’s water polo team at College of San Mateo was to get a shot at reaching the Coast Conference championship game.
After drubbing De Anza College at home Wednesday afternoon 19-2, CSM gets its shot in the semifinals Friday at West Valley College in Saratoga.
“The energy level of the team I would say is high, lots of nerves,” said CSM’s Tayler O’Connor, who scored twice against De Anza. “We’re all excited for the game. We would love to be part of the championship game.”
The Bulldogs (12-10) are the No. 3 seed, with a 9-8 overtime loss to No. 2 West Valley on Oct. 8 still fresh in the players’ minds.
“I think we’re much better now than we were then,” Kacee Johnson said.
“We’re more of a diverse team,” Shelby Chung said.
Johnson, 19, and Chung, 20, were teammates at Sonora High.
It was Johnson who got them started with water polo as freshmen at Sonora, while it was Chung who took a photo of a flyer three years ago when their club team competed at CSM during the Junior Olympics and made contact to play at the junior college.
“Teammates forever,” Chung said. “We’ve known each other since sixth grade.”
Chung scored five times against De Anza, mostly on the counterattack. Often, she’s isolated with Johnson on the same side to take advantage of their chemistry.
“It depends on the team we’re playing on what we run,” said Johnson, who scored four goals Wednesday. “Against this team it was counter, after counter, after counter.”
CSM, which only has one substitute, saw each of its seven field players score at least twice — including Kailey Flather, who found the back of the cage for the first time with 1:50 left in the fourth quarter.
“A lot of our games we try to get everybody to score, especially games like this,” Johnson said. “It’s a whole team effort. Kailey was the last who hadn’t scored, and we told everyone not to shoot so we could work her.”
Flather graduated from Palo Alto High in 2010, but she’s not the oldest member of the Bulldogs.
That would be O’Connor, who hadn’t played water polo since fall of 2005 during her senior year at Mercy-Burlingame.
The 26-year-old left-hander was a Division I scholarship athlete at Long Beach State, where she was a heptathlete. Since she didn’t play water polo for the 49ers, O’Connor could join the Bulldogs while taking pre-nursing courses at CSM.
“So I kind of just took advantage of my eligibility and said, ‘Why not? Let’s relive the glory days,’ ” said O’Connor, who is neck and neck with Chung for the title of leading scorer.”It’s been awesome to come back to the pool and be part of aquatics again. I really missed it.”
CSM allowed the first goal of the game against De Anza after 26 seconds and trailed 2-1 two minutes into the first quarter.
The rest was a clinic, with the Bulldogs jumping out to an 8-2 lead after the opening eight minutes before taking a 12-2 lead into halftime. By the time the final horn sounded, CSM had scored 18 unanswered goals with Ashley Mullany guarding the cage.
Is this an omen of things to come against West Valley?
“We can’t judge anything on this game today,” CSM coach Randy Wright said. “Friday is going to be so much faster and physical. Friday there is a whole different set of focus, it’s apples and oranges.”