Tigers capture water polo state championship
CORVALLIS — It was their goal since last November: Make it back and win it.
In the final game of an eventful weekend at Osborn Aquatic Center, Newberg girls water polo achieved the lofty goal it set at the start of its season, winning the state championship 10-3 over Barlow for its second title in three years.
The Tigers reached the pinnacle thanks in large part to their defense, which held teams to low point totals all season. It
was no different in a state championship match where Newberg gave up just a trio of goals.
When the buzzer sounded, Newberg players made their way out of the pool and jumped up and down in celebration of their hard-earned achievement. They jumped back in the pool one last time as a team – this time with coach Cari Blanchard in street clothes joining them.
"It feels almost unreal," senior Stella Byles said after the raucous celebration. "I'm so proud of my team and we were so hyped for this all season. There was no doubt this was our goal and we achieved that."
"It just felt really good," Blanchard said. "I'm proud of these girls and the work they've put in, and it felt good to see how happy they were. Watching their faces light up was really special."
Newberg and Barlow got off to relatively slow start offensively, feeling each other out for the first seven minutes. After surrendering the opening goal of the game, Newberg scored two in a row to take a 2-1 lead into the second quarter.
After Barlow scored again to tie it early in the second quarter, Newberg rattled off four goals in a row – two coming from Hailey Day – and took command of the game with a 6-2 lead at half.
From there, it was a coast to victory fueled by terrific defense. The Tigers allowed just one goal the rest of the way and scored four of their own, keeping Barlow out of its preferred spots in the pool and swarming to the ball when
Day led the team with three goals while Byles had two. Byles won the Most Valuable Player award for the state
tournament with her outstanding play and provided leadership for the Tigers all season.
"It's a total honor," Byles said. "For me, it's more of a team thing, but it's humbling to be recognized in that way. I'm
so thankful for my four years here."
The championship victory didn't come easy. It took a goal with one second left in double overtime for the Tigers to get past Summit in the semifinals, a game in which Blanchard admitted the team didn't play its best polo.
Maintaining a consistent mindset was the team's focus as it entered the title bout.
"We struggled last night playing, so coming into this I just told them that they have to treat it like any other game,"
Blanchard said. "Forget that it's the state championship, forget about the crowd, just play your game. And we did that and finished the job, and I'm proud of how they played."
Another title for the girls adds to the legacy of their program right alongside the boys. Under Blanchard and boys coach Jim McMaster, championships have become the expectation more than an aspiration.
Byles said the culture of the program is the reason why both teams keep on winning.
"It's the coaches, honestly," Byles said. "They do such a great job preparing us and we work so hard for them. It's kind of the culture of it that keeps it going."
Blanchard, heading the girls program for the past few years with McMaster as her assistant, has proven a strong leader
for the girls' varsity team in recent years with two titles in the past three seasons. She is setting up the program for
success down the road, too, keeping girls who compete in water polo heavily involved in the swim team as well to
maintain their conditioning.
Blanchard said she will miss the handful of seniors graduating from this year's championship team and will miss their personalities and contributions to the program.
"They play really well together, they're kind and they're respectful," Blanchard said of the 2019 Tigers, a team to be
remembered. "We don't have any drama and the team maintains a positive attitude. They truly love being part of this team and working together and that helped us get here."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.