Saturday morning’s CIF-SS Division 4 championship game was more bitter than sweet for the Long Beach Poly girls’ water polo team. This year’s Jackrabbits squad had long since proved itself the best team in school history, setting a record for most wins in a season (21), becoming the first team to beat Wilson and the first team to win a Moore League title.
But Poly badly wanted a win at the Woollett Aquatic Center on Saturday, in the team’s first-ever CIF-SS championship game appearance—and they almost had it. The Jackrabbits led 5-0 but saw Segerstrom claw away at that margin until the Jaguars eventually overcame Poly in overtime, 9-8.
“I don’t think we can take that step back and appreciate what the team did this year,” said Poly coach Bill Brightenburg. “Not right now, this hurts too much. I’m heartbroken for my team.”
The first half couldn’t have gone much better as the Jackrabbits built a commanding 5-0 lead, with Sydney Brightenburg (Bill’s daughter) pounding in three scores, along with one apiece from Darby Huff and Amanda Horton. The Jaguars defended Poly in a man-to-man defense, leaving Brightenburg with just one player guarding her at the two-meter position. Brightenburg is a spin move specialist and easily dropped her defender for quick scores.
With goalie Alinna Perez making six of her 11 saves in a shutout first quarter, Poly was dominant on both ends of the tank.
Trailing 5-0, the Jaguars finally started dropping defenders to double Brightenburg after she touched the ball, and the Poly offense began to grind to a halt in the second half. After Poly led 5-2 at halftime, Segerstrom came out on fire, moving the ball quickly and scoring five straight goals to end the quarter, with Destiny Hernandez scoring the go-ahead goal with 10 seconds left.
Even with the lead erased, Poly was still in position to win it. After Hernandez earned an exclusion with two minutes left in the game, Huff banged home a no-doubter to tie it up, and then Horton dropped in a lob shot with 1:09 left in the game to put Poly up 8-7.
The Jaguars had the magic, as Mia Favela lobbed in the game-tying goal with four seconds remaining.
In overtime, Marlenne Ortega put in the game-winning goal early in the first period and then the Jaguars’ defense held Poly scoreless for the rest of the game.
After the game, Brightenburg and Poly athletic director Rob Shock both gave speeches making sure the Poly team knew they’d still made history. The message was received, but not entirely embraced, as a proud team struggled to fathom that their season had ended just shy of the goal they’d had all year.
“We did make history this year,” said Sydney. “Nothing can take that from us, and it’s better than the alternative. But we really wanted the championship.”
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CIF Water Polo Championship: Long Beach Poly vs. Segerstrom
Watch Long Beach Poly take on Segerstrom in their first ever CIF-SS water polo championship appearance.