Since the Santa Ynez girls water polo team won the CIF Southern Section Division 7 championship in 2017, the first water polo sectional title in school history, the bad luck has just kept coming for the Pirates.

The Pirates did have some happy times in their Jan. 17 game. They defeated Los Padres League rival Santa Maria 19-1 at Santa Maria's Karl Bell Aquatic Center. One returnee from the 2017 championship team, Annie Ackert, scored six goals. Another returnee, Teghan Miller, scored five.

Vanessa Garcia scored the Santa Maria goal.

Overall, "It has been one (heck of a season)," said first-year Santa Ynez coach Tim Miller, though Santa Ynez has seven returnees from the 2017 squad, including goalkeepers Olivia Sparkes and Sydney Hill.

The Pirates' 2017 coach, John Connolly, left the program and his sophomore daughter Shannon, Santa Ynez's leading scorer from that team and the 2017 Division 7 Player of the Year as a freshman, went with him.

"She's at Dos Pueblos," said Tim Miller. "John decided the program here wasn't good enough for his daughter."

In a recent email to the Valley News, John Connolly disputed Tim Miller's statement.

"...I never had a conversation with coach Miller regarding my reason for leaving," John Connolly said in the email. "In fact it's been over a year since I had even had a conversation with coach Miller.

"The reason we left was because I was promoted at my Air National Guard unit and that promotion required me to take a leave of absence from my school. I am on record with the local newspapers for having made that statement when I left the Buellton City Council. Because I would be working full-time at my air base by Point Mugu, I needed to move within commuting range."

Tim Miller said he "helped out at times," last year with the Santa Ynez program.

"My wife, Celeste, does the books for the program. Celeste and my assistant, Kieren Garner, have done a lot to hold the program together."

The game Wednesday was at Santa Maria because, "Our pool broke down again so we had to switch (the site)," said Miller.

"We had such a late start to the season. Our pool broke down so we couldn't get in the pool. Our girls were swimming all over the place," trying to stay in some sort of water polo shape.

"We lost a lot of (potential) games because of the Thomas fire," the largest wildfire in California history, said Tim Miller.

Then came the deadly mudslides that have shut down part of U.S. 101.

"We lost five games that we were going to play in that tournament," because of the closure, said Miller. "Every team that was going to be in that tournament that was (based) north of the highway shutdown had to pull out of the tournament."

Besides all that, "Our numbers are down," said the Santa Ynez coach. "We lost a lot of kids. We have 21 players in the program." The Pirates had two substitutes Wednesday.

Despite the sporadic playing time the Pirates have had available to them this season, their offense and defense often looked crisp enough Wednesday. On the first possession of the game, Ackert flicked the ball to Teghan Miller, who made a brisk pass to Allison Alderete. Alderete, another player from the 2017 title squad, scored.

Despite all the travails the Pirates have been through, said Ackert and her coach, there have been bright spots.

"Not being able to be in the pool gave our team some bonding time," Ackert said.

"Now we have a chance to win (the league championship), get in the playoffs and hopefully make a run in Division 5. I feel like things are starting to get back to normal."

Winning the league championship for the Pirates will be a tall order. To do that, they will have to get past Cabrillo, which has won the last several LPL titles, in the league tournament.

The Pirates played the Conquistadores Wednesday at the Lompoc Aquatic Center in Santa Ynez's next-to-last regular season game. "When we played at the (Thousand Oaks Tournament), we were tied with them at halftime, then they beat us 16-4," said Tim Miller ruefully.

"We had no legs," in the second half.

A full report on that game can be found on or in next week's edition of the Santa Ynez Valley News.

Miller said his team has done some adapting since Shannon Connolly left. "We're developing a center defender," he said. "We can't sit back and count on Shannon's arm (for scoring) anymore. Kylie Luke's been back there for us."

Ackert repeatedly intercepted Santa Maria passes Wednesday. Denise Ortega played some strong defense for the Saints.


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