IRVINE — Brooke Gruneisen is the unquestioned leader for Wilson girls’ water polo. The junior scored the first two goals of the CIF Southern Section Division 3 championship game on Saturday at Woollett Aquatics Center, but it was her teammates who stepped up down the stretch to help deliver a 6-5 win over Harvard Westlake.
It is the first girls’ water polo championship in Wilson history, and the first finals appearance since 1998.
The Bruins won the first girls’ water polo championship in school history with a thriller against the Wolverines.
“That game could’ve gone either way,” Wilson first-year coach Barry O’Dea said. “But I knew we would fight until the end. We play for our city. We’re Long Beach. I’m all fired up.”
Gruneisen finished with a hat trick. Her last goal tied the game 4-4 at the beginning of the third quarter.
Wilson freshman Ava Bishop scored a beautiful backhand minutes later to give the Bruins the lead, and after Harvard Westlake tied the game for a fourth time in the middle of the fourth quarter, sophomore Maegan Simon scored the game-winner with 42 seconds to play.
Wilson sophomore goalkeeper Camryn Krueger made her ninth and tenth saves of the game in the final seconds to clinch the victory.
“That was definitely the game of my life,” Krueger said.
Wilson drew an exclusion on its first possession of the game, and Simon found Gruneisen on a cross-pool pass for the opening goal. After the Bruins forced their first of 18 turnovers on defense, Gruneisen scored her second goal on the second Wilson possession.
“It felt like a championship game, and we knew we were here for a reason,” Gruneisen said. “It was pretty awesome seeing all of the hard work pay off. We all wanted it so bad. From day one, before the summer, we set the goal to be CIF champions, and we did whatever we could to reach it.”
Harvard Westlake junior Taylor LaCour scored the next two goals to tie it up, and she also finished with a hat trick. Senior Pria Pant scored late in the second quarter to give the Wolverines a 4-3 lead at halftime.
Gruneisen tied the game on Wilson’s first possession of the second half, and Bishop’s backhanded goal broke the 4-4 tie.
“I’ve taken shots like that before, and I knew we needed a goal, so I kind of just flung it and hoped for the best,” Bishop said. “That’s one I’ll remember.”
Harvard Westlake earned a 5-meter penalty shot with about a minute to play in the third quarter, but Krueger made a stone-cold stop with her right hand.
LaCour scored her third goal in the middle of the fourth quarter, and after a few close calls on both sides of the pool, Wilson went on the counter attack after a foul call on the Wolverines. Bishop was there for the quick restart near the middle of the pool.
“I was trying to draw my defender out because I knew (Simon) was up there, so I put it out there and was praying she would get the goal,” Bishop said.
Simon outswam her defender to the lead pass, and in front of goal she used her outstretched left arm to push Harvard Westlake goalkeeper Emily Hilliard aside and score with 42 second left. Hilliard had nine saves.
O’Dea, who did a celebratory flip into the pool after the final seconds ticked off, became the Wilson girls’ water polo coach less than a year ago.
“(These girls) were hungry, they wanted something, and I feel like I brought something a little different for them,” said O’Dea, who has lived in Long Beach his entire teaching career. “To do it at home, I can’t put it into words. It’s so awesome.”