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Sacred Heart Prep girls' water polo team rounding into form

Nathan Mollat, Daily Journal staff
The Sacred Heart Prep girls’ water polo team opened the season with a shaky 10-7 win over St. Francis last week, but was more comfortable in a 12-4 win over Presentation this past Saturday.
Hosting St. Ignatius Wednesday in Atherton, the Gators looked like the defending Central Coast Section Open Division champions as they used a spectacular first period to take control of the match on their way to a 15-2 victory.
SHP was nearly perfect in the opening seven minutes of the match. Not just because they outscored SI 8-0, but because the Gators controlled every facet of the game. They scored on all eight of their first-period shots and utility player Eleanor Facey was nearly unstoppable — no matter where she was in the pool. Facey scored three of her game-high five goals in the first period. She was on her way to a fourth, but on a breakaway drive she was fouled, with Ashley Penner netting the ensuing 5-meter penalty shot.
But Facey eventually got her chances. Her first came off an assist from Penner and Facey drove from the perimeter. Her second came on a nifty spin move in the hole set and her third came on a backhand shot after she first dropped, then recovered, the entry pass.
But not only was Facey and the Gators on target offensively, their defense was equally impressive in the first quarter. They allowed only two shots on goal ¬— the first not coming until there were only 40 seconds left in the quarter — as their pressure defense prevented the Wildcats from getting anything going offensively. The Gators finished the match with 17 steals, with Brienz Lang, Ola Szczerba and Ella Woodhead each coming up with three apiece.
“They have a few players who would be top contributors on any team. … I thought we did a good job on [Lucia Sarimsakci]. We tried to emphasize taking her away,” said SHP head coach Jamie Frank. “We talked about controlling what you can control. You can’t always control when you’re going to score, but defensively you can control your body position, do what you do and you can stop [the other team].”
Penner had two goals in the opening period, adding a goal on a drive from the left wing, while Woodhead had a goal an assist.
“That looked like a quarter from a team who has played all season, not just the third game,” Frank said of his team’s hot start.
As good as the starters were for SHP, the second unit still needs some work as the Gators scored only two goals in the second period and one in the third. Facey added her fourth goal of the game as she took a pass in the set, held off the defender and buried her shot to put the Gators up 9-0. SI finally stopped the Gators as Wildcats goaltender Karinia Yamini stopped a Facey shot, the first denial in 10 shots for SHP.
St. Ignatius finally got on the scoreboard with 3:02 left in the second period when SHP was called for a 5-meter penalty, which Sarimsakci put in the corner of the net on a quick release.
The Gators got the goal back before the end of the half on Woodhead’s second goal of the match.
Facey scored the Gators’ only goal of the third period with another strength move in the hole set. SHP then got loose again offensively in the fourth as four different players scored.
In addition to Facey’s five goals, Penner and Woodhead each had three goals and three assists, Szczerba added a goal and three assists, while Kate Brandin, Riley Hocker and Lang each netted one apiece.
It’s only natural the Gators would take a few games to feel comfortable. Frank said the team did not really get down to playing polo until the beginning of March, so he has had to change up his practices to get the players into game shape as quickly as possible.
“We’re just playing a lot of polo. Usually we focus on conditioning early,” Frank said. “This year is all about playing polo. Getting our skills just from playing.”
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Founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, SHS is a Catholic, independent, co-ed day school for students in preschool through grade 12