LODI - Two area girls water polo teams won Sac-Joaquin Section semifinal matches Wednesday at Tokay High.
One did so for the fourth time in four years. The other, meanwhile, advanced for the first time ever.
No. 2 Tokay beat No. 6 Del Oro 7-3 in the Division II semifinals as the Tigers moved into a section title match for the first time in program history.
Earlier in the same pool, the second-seeded Kimball Jaguars beat Bear River in the Division II semi’s, advancing to the championships for the fourth straight year.
The championship round will be held Saturday at Woodcreek High in Roseville. The Jaguars play first, taking on No. 1 Sonora at 10 a.m. Tokay (21-3) plays No. 1 Rio Americano at 1 p.m. and, in the boys’ Division I bracket, St. Mary’s plays No. 2 Jesuit at 5:30 p.m.
In the Tigers’ triumph Wednesday, Nicole Iturraran had four goals, Sydney Stewart had two and Lizzy Macfarlane had one.
Iturraran, a senior, had the first four for Tokay, and one of Stewart’s gave the Tigers a 5-1 halftime lead. It played right into Tokay’s plans, according to head coach Courtney Porter: score early against Del Oro’s tough goalkeeper, and do everything they could to keep the ball out of the hands of the Golden Eagles’ Mikayla Manley.
It worked in the first half, but seemed to at least momentarily falter in the third period. Manley found the back of the net, and a teammate followed to cut Tokay’s lead to 5-3.
The Tigers’ defense, though, held pat thanks to a scheme that centers around the talents of junior goalkeeper Alaina Stoop.
“Having her in the cage allows us to do different things out here,” Porter said. “That’s why, defensively, we’re doing really well.”
Goals by Stewart and Macfarlane sealed Del Oro’s fate in the fourth, sending the Tigers to a historic first section title appearance. It will come against a Rio Americano team that Tokay is familiar with, having lost to the Raiders 9-6 on Oct. 26 in the Julian Szmidt Memorial tournament.
To be successful, Porter said, the Tigers will need to take care of the basics, and do what they can to keep Rio Americano off-balance. That starts with the defense, which in turn starts with Stoop.
“We all just need to bring it,” Stoop said. “If we put our minds to it, I know we can do it. It just depends on how nervous we are, and who comes out to play.
“I’m really excited. I want another blue flag in our gym.”
The Jaguars (20-10) came out of the gates even stronger than Tokay did. Izzy Ballutay had six of her seven goals in the first half, helping Kimball to a 11-3 lead at the break.
Jilliyn Lucero had four goals, Sofia Orihuela had two and the trio of Klara Sawander, Jenika Tanjuakio and Olivia Taylor each scored once to help the Jaguars win by a 16-7 final over Bear River.
It was a match indicative of a team that had been here before. Many times, in fact. The Jaguars have won two of the past three Division III section championships, with only Sonora’s 6-5 win in 2017 stopping them from a three-peat.
This season will be the first of the four under first-year head coach Tess de Lange. For her, the win that got this Jaguars team back to the finals came from a defensive mindset.
“Our strategy was more about defense,” de Lange said. “If we played good defense, it would lead to good offense.”
It may be age-old, but there was no dust or rust in that tactic Wednesday. It effectively set the stage for a tiebreaker that’s been three years in the making - before Sonora’s win in 2017, the Wildcats were the victim of a 10-7 final in 2016 when Kimball won its second straight title.
Which is all to say, there’s history between these teams. As one of Kimball’s captains said, the Jaguars will try to do anything necessary to sway history back in its favor.
“This year, we’re coming back strong,” Ballutay said. “If it takes more practice, if it takes team bonding; whatever it takes, we’re willing to do it to win.
“It’s my last year. I want to end it with a bang."