Lakeridge girls water polo wins first-ever title; Lake Oswego takes fourth
The Lakeridge Pacers came in as the No. 3 team in the girls water polo state tournament, but they left as champions for the first time in school history.
"They're remarkable," said Lakeridge head coach Aukai Ferguson of his state championship squad. "Their dedication to conditioning over the course of the season was phenomenal. No missing practice, everyone accountable — and it paid off."
Lakeridge defeated top-ranked Sam Barlow 11-7 in the 6A state championship match Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Osborn Aquatic Center in Corvallis. The Pacers' offensive output was led by sophomores Sydney Brandvold and Adrienne Medak, who combined to score seven goals in the victory. Senior Charlotte Mitchell had two goals of her own for Lakeridge, while senior Eleni Antonis and junior Munroe Blem had the others.
Meanwhile, strong defensive performances from junior Ella Ferguson and senior goalkeeper Evelyn Miller helped the tamp down a normally hot Bruin attack.
"Coming into tonight I knew we had the best goalie in the state, and that we could play through her and rely on her to make plays," said Lakeridge head coach Aukai Ferguson after the match, still wet from his victory plunge into the pool. For her part, Miller was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament.
As for the offensive end, Ferguson noted that the emergence of Brandvold and Medak this year allowed Ella Ferguson, the newly minted Three Rivers League Player of the Year, to focus more on anchoring the Pacer defense.
"It's incredible," said Ferguson of the development of his sophomore scorers. "Sydney and Adrienne are fast, they're young and they play with a lot of confidence."
He continued: "That took the pressure off my daughter, Ella, who was responsible for a majority of the defense and the offense last year when we got third. She was able to focus on guarding the best person on the opposing team and running the defense."
Aside from those standouts, Ferguson also noted two "pleasant surprises" from the championship game.
"The pleasant surprises were Munroe Blem, who scored a goal and had an assist," the coach said. "And our team captain, Charlotte (Mitchell), scored two goals. She's a left-hander, so having your left-hander score two goals forces them to guard that side as well. She did a good job. She's also a playmaker facilitating the offense."
The win on Saturday was the Pacers' second victory over the Bruins this season, coupled with a 10-6 win back on Sept. 12. The strong Barlow team won the other two regular-season games by close margins, and all three results gave Lakeridge a mental boost going into the finals.
"It gave them a ton of confidence because they beat them by four at their pool," Ferguson said. "We play a lot of shallow-deep throughout the year, so knew we had the speed. That was a model for us to recreate. Throughout the season we lost to them twice, but there were certain easy things we could correct, so we were pretty confident going into the final that we could give them a good game."
The road to earn this rematch, however, wasn't all smooth sailing for Lakeridge.
The Pacers were able to cruise in their first two games of the playoffs, scoring an 18-1 win over No. 14 Sunset and an 18-3 win over No. 6 Mountainside. The competition ramped up considerably in the semifinals, though, when Lakeridge matched up with No. 2 South Eugene. The Pacers eventually prevailed in a 12-9 overtime win over the Axe, booking a spot in the finals in the process.
"That was kind of a flashback to last season when we lost in the semifinal," recalled Ferguson of the overtime nail-biter. "This one, they (South Eugene) snuck back in on us, but I've been telling our girls all season that we're a fourth-quarter team. In overtime, we just get stronger. And they believed it because it's true."
When they returned to Osborn Aquatic Center on Saturday, the Pacers came ready to pull off another upset. Lakeridge jumped out to a 6-2 halftime lead and eventually held on for the victory as Brandvold scored three of her goals in the second half to help stave off Barlow's late comeback bid.
"I couldn't be more happy," said Ferguson, who added that the state final was a full-on family affair. Not only was his daughter Ella playing for the Pacers in the pool, but his son, Torin — a member of the Pacer's first-ever boys water polo state championship team in 2019 — also was in attendance.
"It was really fun to have the whole family there."
Lakers take fourth place at state
Lake Oswego also had a strong showing at the state championships, taking fourth overall in the 16-team field.
The Lakers won their first two playoff games in disparate fashion, first beating No. 13 Sheldon 19-2 before outlasting No. 5 Newberg in an 11-10 donnybrook. Their playoff run came to a halt in the semifinals, however, when they squared off with No. 1 Barlow, the defending champions.
The Bruins won that match 19-11, sending Lake Oswego into the third-place game against No. 2 South Eugene. The Axe, fresh off their overtime loss the night before, bounced back for a 19-15 win on Saturday afternoon in Corvallis to take the bronze medal over the Lakers.
Christopher Keizur contributed to this story.
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