The sun was shining, the water was perfect and Wednesday was a beautiful day to be in the swimming pool at Pitman High’s Aquatic Center. Until, that is, Merced’s red-hot boys and girls water polo teams showed up.
Both of the Bears squads came out ready to play too, jumping out to quick leads and never looking back in a pair of one-sided Central California Conference League victories over their hosts from Pitman.
It was “Senior Day,” the final home games for both teams, and both Pride teams showed their respective pride in fighting to the end. But it was a case of too much too soon from a pair of Merced teams that look like serious Division I Playoff contenders as the regular season winds down to its final two games.
Pitman’s girls team, which fell 5-1 to the first-place Bears (8-0, 10-3 overall), actually did an outstanding job in keeping the score so close after surrendering three quick goals in the match’s opening minutes.
While Merced had the size and numbers on Pride coach Michaela Solario’s game squad, Pitman, 2-5 in CCC league play, kept battling until the game’s final moments.
Sophomore Jordyn Kennell, who scored Pitman’s only goal, “played very well. She did a very good job of keeping the pressure on (Merced),” said Solario.
“We played them very tough, but we just couldn’t put the ball away (into the net) and that has been our problem all year. Our offense has had trouble putting it together.”
Merced’s girls team, ranked No. 4 among Sac-Joaquin Section Division I water polo teams, received a pair of goals from sophomore sensation Kathryn Elgin and senior Jane Eckles.
The Pride said farewell to seniors Madeline Allen, Emma Burke and Anna Porter but does return juniors Roxy Abrams, Kim Canisso, Angineh Davtians, Taylor Jarvis, Jessica Kern, Erin Tait, Hollie Tinley and April Zitkovich along with Kennell.
“Maddie Allen, our second-year senior, started for us last night and played extremely well,” Solario said. “She had a couple nice steals and also put a couple shots on goal for us.”
Solario praised the work of Kern, her junior goalie, as well as the defensive efforts of fellow juniors Jarvis and Canisso.
“Jessica played a good game. She made some nice saves,” added the Pride coach, “and Taylor and Kim were very aggressive defensively.”
The boys game wasn’t nearly as competitive as Merced (6-2, 13-5 overall) ran off to a quick start en route to a 17-4 romp that didn’t particularly please Pitman head coach Ryan Bullard.
“That was pretty bad,” said Bullard. “Merced is a very tough team but I thought we played them a lot better the last time we faced them. I thought we might fare better against them at our place because we have a bigger pool but that wasn’t the case.”
Pitman, which received goals from Nathan Olsen, Allan Quinn, Josh Buck and Kyle Adams, is still a much-improved team over last season, said the second-year coach.
“Last year was very tough, but we got a lot of good experience,” said Bullard, who is pleased to note this year’s team boasts 10 juniors and three sophomores.
Nate Hildebrand, Andrew Cutler, Evan Schulze, Cameron Sondeno and goal-tender Carter Day —who will be replaced in goal next season by his younger brother, sophomore Tanner Day — are the five seniors who were honored by Pitman Wednesday.
“We play in a very competitive league and we obviously have a lot of room to go to get to the next level,” Bullard said. “But we have some players who will be bringing back a lot of experience to our team next season so I think we’re on the right track.”
Regular CCC play continues on the road for both the boys and girls teams Wednesday Oct. 23 at Buhach Colony in Atwater and concludes Oct. 30 in a renewal of the cross-town rivalry between Pitman and host Turlock.
“That’s always a fun match,” said Bullard of the season-ending Pitman-Turlock clash.