Newberg girls water polo caps unbeaten season with state title
CORVALLIS — For a team that hadn't lost a game versus in-state competition all season, the Newberg girls water polo team, was a bit out of sorts in the first quarter of the 6A state championship game Saturday night at the Osborn Aquatic Center.
With all of their success, it's easy to forget that the Tigers feature just one senior in the regular rotation — goalie Grace Kavanagh — but otherwise head coach Cari Blanchard's roster is a mix of juniors, sophomores and freshmen.
So it's understandable that Newberg was caught off guard when it struggled with ejections in the early going and fell behind Lincoln 1-0 after one quarter.
It didn't take too long, however, for before the Tigers remembered themselves, so to speak. After settling down a bit to take a 3-2 lead into the break, Newberg dominated the second half, scoring four consecutive goals to prevail 7-4 and earn their second state title in three seasons.
"It was just a matter of how bad we wanted it," Kavanagh said. "We could have rolled over and given it to them or we could stick it out. Cari actually told us before the game that the boys won it because they wanted it more and they fought for it, so we had to, too. I think the prospect that we could lose helped us kick it up a little bit."
One of two freshmen in the starting lineup, Nikki Roubottom helped build some momentum with a pair of goals in the second quarter, with junior captain Mackenzie Russell fighting off a pair of defenders to score with 2:08 remaining to make it 3-2 at the break.
Roubottom got Newberg off on the right foot in the second half, drawing a 5-meter penalty shot and scoring just over a minute into the third. Lincoln needed just 14 seconds to answer with a pinpoint shot from long range and make it a one-goal game again at 4-3.
Hailey Day, the other freshman starter, seemed to turn the tide for good with a one-timer at the 2:35 mark before Paris Boileau followed up a Stella Byles shot, tapping home the rebound to make it 6-3 with 1:58 left in the third.
"Once we started scoring it was just a domino effect," Russell said. "After a while we were up by a good margin and we felt like we had it under control."
The Tigers misfired on a few opportunities in the fourth quarter, but their defense was strong enough to hold off the Cardinals. Russell scored the fourth consecutive goal for Newberg to make it 7-3 with 5:46 to play.
The Tigers had to see out the final three minutes of play without junior Jordan Trantham and Russell, who earned her third ejection with 3:04 to play, with Lincoln converting on a 5-meter penalty shot to make it 7-4.
Newberg demonstrated its depth, though, with the substitutes helping see out the win without incident.
"I was still confident when they went in," Russell said. "I wasn't worried. I knew that they would be able to hold their own."
Russell was named Tournament MVP, with Kavanagh and Stella Byles joining her on the all-tournament first team and Trantham earning second-team honors.
"She definitely leads the team," Blanchard said of Mackenzie. "She's a very strong player. She did play really well. The thing that I love about this group is that even though I have Mackenzie, who plays really well, I have two freshmen that dominate and score, so we've got a lot of depth."
Kavanagh made 17 blocks in the game and has been a steadying force for the last two seasons as the young group has matured.
"It's going to be tough knowing that our final line of defense that's saved us so many times isn't going to be there. She's saved us on a lot of one on no-ones and we're not going to have that safety net anymore, so we're going to have to step up our game a lot."
Although it was her first official season as head coach, Blanchard has led the development of this group ever since the 2015 state title campaign and longtime coach Jim McMaster praised his former player and pupil for doing a masterful job.
"I have really not helped much with Cari and the girl's team," he said. "I give them pointers every once in a while, but this is all Cari. The girls respect her and they work for her, so it's been great."
With the girls playing after the boys Saturday, their win also gave Newberg its second championship sweep in the last two years.
"It's really fun when we both win because we can be happy together," Russell said. "They were both close, really intense games, which I think makes it even more exciting. I'm happy."