Lady Dons Polo Lose NorCal Championships in 7-6 Thriller

It was a heartbreak of a final game for the Lady Dons as they fell just short against a strong Miramonte team. After winning a scrappy semi-final late on Friday evening against Davis High School the Dons returned to the pool on Saturday afternoon for the third matchup of the season with the well drilled and talented Miramonte Matadors. The Dons have developed a habit of starting slowly and for the third game in a row they sleepwalked out of the blocks (despite Carol Schirmer winning the sprint to start the game) and in no time found themselves three goals down as the Mats made some simple scores, throwing the ball in to set to draw exclusions and converting their chances. The Dons looked shellshocked but somehow managed to re-organize their defense and start to play with purpose. By the end of the first quarter the Dons had regained their composure, but the Mats lead 3-0.

The Lady Dons looked a different team in the second quarter with Alana McCartney leading the way in attack and backing up her starring performance from Friday’s semi-final. First McCartney drew a five-meter penalty shot that was converted by Claire Rowell before she raced onto a long pass from Ava Donleavy and held off the chasing defenders to plant the ball firmly in the back of the net. At the other end, Ava Donleavy was making some fine stops and the Dons defense was now looking secure with Alex Mould drawing offensive fouls from the Mats and Emma Miller swooping in to steal loose balls. The Dons tied the score when Heidi Heffelfinger caught and swiveled to score. At this point the momentum was all with the Dons. However, fine team that they are, the Mats fought back and scored another to lead 4-3 at half-time.

The Mats started the third quarter strongly and scored a fifth to open a two-goal lead. The Dons fought back and looked to have found a way back into the game when Alex Mould drew a five-meter penalty shot, but unfortunately for the Dons, they could not convert when the Mats goalkeeper pulled off a great stop. The Dons kept fighting, regained the loose ball, and from the next play Heidi Heffelfinger found Alana McCartney with a slick pass to score. The Lady Dons kept coming, with Claire Rowell drawing a third five-meter penalty shot of the game for the Dons, but with echoes of Wednesday’s game the Dons could not convert. Even so, the Lady Dons would not be broken, and Heidi Heffelfinger raced onto a long pass from Ava Donleavy to tie the game up at five a piece. The crowd was going berserk, it was the most noise the Soda Center had heard in over a year. It had been a tremendous quarter for the Dons, and despite missing some chances they were looking the stronger team. But the quarter was not over, and the Matadors found one last attack to take the lead once again. It was 6-5 to the Matadors at the end of the third quarter.

The fourth quarter started with everything to play for. Both teams were tiring with the defenses on top. Eventually the Dons worked an opportunity with Carol Schirmer shooting firmly into the top corner after an assist by Alex Mould. The scores were tied with over four minutes to play. Back and forth went the play before the Mats edged ahead again from a delightful backhand. The Dons had three minutes left to make the equalizer, but try as they might, they could not get a clear sight of goal. The buzzer sounded with the Dons in possession but unable to get a shot off. It had been a great game of water polo played with passion and fight by two fine teams. The final score 7-6 to Miramonte. For the Dons: Alana McCartney and Heidi Heffelfinger scored two goals, Carol Schirmer and Claire Rowell scored one each. Heidi Heffelfinger and Alex Mould each made an assist. Alana McCartney, Carol Schirmer and Alex Mould made three steals with two for Emma Miller and one for Heidi Heffelfinger. Ava Donleavy made 10 saves.

In Friday night’s semi-final the Lady Dons beat Davis High School 11-7. Claire Rowell and Heidi Heffelfinger each scored four goals with three each from Alana McCartney. Alana McCartney and Heidi Heffelfinger made two assists, with one each from Sara Archer and Claire Rowell. Claire Rowell made four steals, Alana McCartney and Alex Mould made three, Ava Donleavy made two, Emma Miller and Carol Schirmer made one each. Ava Donleavy made five saves and Audrey Cox saved a five-meter penalty shot.

They finish their season with a 10-3 record, all three losses coming to a very good Miramonte team.