As each need sports season begins, head coaches have a simple checklist.
Tough preseason schedule; successful league campaign; great run through the playoffs that will hopefully lead to a CIF Southern Section title.
The goals seem simple.
Achieving them isn’t.
The Santa Ynez High School girls’ water polo team checked all the boxes on the way to the CIF-SS Division 7 championship.
Their run to the title comes in as the No. 4 story in the Lee Central Coast Newspapers Top Ten sports stories of 2017.
The Pirates (20-10) had an added level of difficulty in the playoffs; although they were the top seed in the division, they didn’t have a true home game in their five-game run to the title.
Because Santa Ynez’s on-campus pool isn’t regulation size, the Pirates had to play both their playoff home games on the road.
Santa Ynez began its run with an 18-3 rout of La Puente in a home game played at Santa Barbara’s Dos Pueblos High.
They followed that with a 12-9 road win at Carpinteria’s Cate School.
That earned the Pirates another home game. This one would be played at Righetti High School where Santa Ynez eliminated Estancia 9-2 in the quarterfinals.
The Pirates edged Whittier 7-5 in the semifinals in a game played at Rio Hondo College in the City of Industry.
That set up the championship match against No. 2 seed Diamond Bar at the William Woollett Center on the campus of Irvine High School.
That’s a lot of driving — approximately 850 miles round trip — in their drive to the championship.
But it was worth it.
Santa Ynez needed two overtimes but knocked off Diamond Bar 8-6 to bring home the school’s first-ever CIF-SS water polo divisional championship on Saturday, Feb. 25.
The championship game was tied 6-6 at the end of regulation.
After a scoreless first overtime, Santa Ynez freshman Emily Cunningham sent a shot toward Diamond Bar goal keeper Hannah Murray.
"After I shot the ball, I thought it had no chance," said Cunningham after the game. "When it hit her hands, I thought it was bouncing right back out. I'm just so grateful it went in."
With the Pirates leading 7-6, Santa Ynez worked on killing the clock.
With time running out, Santa Ynez’s Olivia Sparkes retrieved the ball in front of the net and got it to Teghan Miller. Miller passed to an uncovered Allison Alderete who scored an insurance goal with one second left.
Diamond Bar had the upper hand early in the game after three first period goals by Ashley Woo put her team up 3-2 at the end of the first quarter.
Diamond Bar made it 6-4 at the half on the strength of Phoebe Tsui’s three second-quarter goals.
"We saw what they were doing," said Santa Ynez coach John Connolly. "They were going to those two players and no one else, and trying to draw exclusions (for power plays)."
But Santa Ynez’s defense stiffened, shutting out Diamond Bar the rest of the way.
"Defense wins championships, right?" said Connolly said after his team shut down Yoo and Tsui, along with the rest of the Brahmas, the last 22:07.
Besides scoring two goals, The Pirates’ Annie Ackert knocked the ball out of Tsui's hand as Tsui was setting up for a shot with one second left in the first overtime period.
"We played tighter defense on those two talented girls (Yoo and Tsui) down low," said Cunningham.
"Those two girls are so, so talented down low."
Layna King scored two goals, both in the first half, for the Pirates. Miller, and then Ackert, on an assist from Miller, scored in the third quarter for the Pirates – goals that tied the game at 6-all.
The fourth quarter of regulation was scoreless.
Santa Ynez starting goalkeeper Sydney Hill made two saves in the first quarter and then tweaked her right shoulder after making a steal.
Sparkes and Hill split time in regulation after the first quarter. Sparkes played all of the extra time.
"It hasn't sunk in yet that we've won a championship, said Sparkes. “It will. Right now, I’m shaking a little."
Ackert was named one of the Players of the Game for Santa Ynez with Sparkes named the winning goal keeper.
After the tournament, Santa Ynez freshman Shannon Connolly was named the Division 7 Player of the Year.
Get in the game with our Prep Sports Newsletter
Sent weekly directly to your inbox!