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Rena French earns first-team all-state honors, while four other Spartans are honored.

COURTESY PHOTO - The Hillsboro High School girls water polo team placed third at the state tournament.The Hillsboro High School water polo program is making strides — or, perhaps more aptly, a splash — and now the Spartans have some hardware to prove it.

Hillsboro placed its boys' and girls' teams alike in this year's state tournament, held at the Mt. Hood Community College Aquatic Center from Nov. 9 to Nov. 10, and while the boys were defeated in the opening round, the girls placed third and were honored with five postseason individual awards.

Hilhi's Rena French was a first-team All-State honoree, while her sister Maya, along with Arwen Nielsen and goalkeeper Cami Maurer, were selected for the second team. In addition, Shawna Ashley Ingram received an honorable mention.

"We've never had girls receive those awards," said Cam Clitheroe, the team's head coach. "We haven't ever made it this far, so to be recognized in such a way was a nice end to a good season."

The Spartan girls, who were seeded third entering the tournament, defeated Willamette in the opening round by a score of 16-9. Then, in the semifinals against No. 2-ranked West Albany, the Sparts hung around, trailing 6-3 at the half before ultimately succumbing to the more skilled and experienced Bulldogs, losing 18-5.

"The girls put up a heck of a fight," Clitheroe said. "But West Albany, like Hood River Valley, are just at a level above us and most everybody else in the state."

Hillsboro went on to defeat Ashland 7-6 in the third-place game. The Spartans trailed the Grizzlies 4-2 at the half, but took advantage of a number of fast break opportunities to take a 6-4 lead in the second stanza, then leaned heavily on their stout defense, led by Maya French, Kennedy Godfrey, Ashly and Maurer, to keep Ashland at bay until the Grizzlies tied the game with 1:30 remaining. But on the Spartans' ensuing drive down the pool, Nielsen drew a third exclusion foul on one of Ashland's key defenders, setting up a power-play goal by Ashly to give the Sparts the lead and allow them to hang on for the tightly contested win.

"It went down to the wire and I was proud of how the girls responded," Clitheroe said. "I really didn't want to go to overtime, and thankfully our girls pulled it out."

Hillsboro finished the season with a record of 25-10, which included three losses to Hood River, one to West Albany, and five others to four of the eight teams that qualified for the 6A state tourney.

The boys, who beat both Redmond and Ridgeview in the season-ending conference tournament just to qualify for state, were defeated in the opening round by No. 3-ranked West Albany, which went on to finish second to Parkrose.

"The guys surprised me," said Clitheroe. "It didn't look like they were going to win anything, but they won two good games to end the year and represented themselves well against a tough West Albany team."

Overall, Clitheroe was proud of his kids and spoke glowingly about what the girls in particular accomplished in the wake of high preseason expectations.

"The girls definitely did what they were supposed to do, which isn't something we've done in years past," said the coach. "We've had some good teams, but this year's team was the first to get where I thought they should go. It was a nice year."

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