This week turn the calendar back to November 23, 2011 and look at the coverage of the Islander Boys Water Polo Team as they won the CIF Division III Championship. At this point, the CIF San Diego Section was adding division levels throughout all sports, with the schools assigned to their respective divisions by student enrollment. The power in Water Polo was centered in Division III as you can see from the article, with the Final Four in Division III comprised of Coronado, La Jolla, The Bishop’s School and Cathedral Catholic. I remember the game well and hopefully this is a reminder how good the 2011-12 Islander Boys Water Polo was.

Saturday evening’s CIF Division III Boys’ Water Polo Finals came together just the way Hollywood would have written the script. First, the Islanders had to qualify for the Finals by holding on for a 13-12 win over La Jolla in the Semifinals held Thursday evening. Starring roles were played by Eitan Peled with four goals, Garrett Eyer with three tallies and two goals each from Jake Frese, Nick Wiley and Tommy Grall.

An added play of importance in the Islander’s victory was a defensive effort by Peled, stealing a pass on La Jolla’s final possession, as the Vikings were driving for a potential game-tying score. Coronado swept the three-game season series from La Jolla, which in itself is a notable achievement. 

Emerging from the lower half of the Division III bracket into the Finals was The Bishop’s School, which had to go overtime to defeat Cathedral Catholic by the same 13-12 score.

Coronado and Bishop’s split their first two meetings, with each of the rivals winning in the other’s home pool. The second game of the series was won by Bishop’s one month to the day prior to the Finals, a 10-9 win by the Knights in sudden death overtime. Coronado had not won a title in Boys’ Water Polo since 2007, when they defeated the Knights. The Islanders did reach the Finals each of the following three years, losing to Bishop’s in 2008, Cathedral Catholic in 2009 and Bishop’s in the Division III Finals in 2010.

Thus, the stage was set, and the championship game did not disappoint. For a little added drama, Bishop’s scored the first three goals of the contest. Coronado Head Coach Randy Burgess discussed the early stages of the contest. “Bishop’s always comes out fired up. Our goal was to survive that first seven to 10 minutes. I thought my guys responded very well. They showed a lot of maturity, especially compared to early in the year. Even though we went down 3-0, the kids and coaches didn’t panic.”

The Knights won the first quarter 3-0, but Coronado scored three consecutive goals in the final 1:11 of the second quarter to even the score. Grall got the Islanders on the scoreboard, which was followed in short order by a save by Coronado goalie Joe Rodgers. Grall then converted on a five-meter penalty shot with 36 seconds on the clock. With one second left in the half, Eyer scored. “That was one of the key shots in the game,” Burgess recounted. “Eyer scoring in the corner, at the buzzer, was huge.”

One of the challenges facing the Islanders was Knights goalie Caleb Schultz, who stopped everything Coronado threw at him in the first quarter, including a series of point-blank shots. Schultz was ultimately credited with 16 saves in the Final. “The worst thing we could do was not shoot on him, which is the typical response against a very good goalie,” Burgess said. “Schultz had a couple of great saves early, but we didn’t put the ball where we should have.”

Despite regaining the momentum in the contest heading into the second half, Coronado was outscored 2-1 in the third quarter. Both of Bishop’s tallies coming on man-advantage situations. The Islander’s goal also came on a man-up opportunity and was scored by Peled. For the game Coronado was 3-9 in man-up situations and the Knights were 5-9.

To make matters worse, with 4:40 left in the game, Bishop’s scored to take a 6-4 lead. Exactly one minute later Peled scored on another man-up opportunity. Then 53 seconds later Peled scored on an assist from Van Burgess to even the score at 6-all. That is the way the score stood at the end of regulation time.

In water polo, overtime is two, three-minute periods. To this point in the contest, Coronado had been playing from behind and had never held the lead. Sixteen seconds into the first overtime, Grall put the Islanders ahead for the first time in the game on a penalty shot, finding the upper right-hand corner of the net. Bishop’s answered almost immediately on a man-up opportunity. Bishop’s scored on a man-up to open the second overtime period and Grall countered to again tie the game at 8-8.

After two overtime periods, a playoff game is decided depending on your preference by either a golden goal, sudden death or sudden victory. In other words, the first team to score wins. Entering sudden victory (let’s be positive), Coronado had held the lead for exactly 42 seconds out of 34 minutes played.

One minute into sudden victory, senior Co-Captain Van Burgess, the coach’s son, stole a pass in the mid pool area, swam toward the Bishop’s goal and hit Grall with a perfect pass. Grall leaned slightly to his left, elevated and buried a cross-cage shot in the upper left-hand corner of the goal for the championship-winning score. It was Grall’s fifth goal of the game capping off a fine game and winning the Division III title for Coronado by the final score of 9-8. The entire Coronado team and most of the coaching and support staff took the traditional leap into the pool as the Islander fans cheered them on.

Several players had big games for the Islanders, including several who did not turn up in the box score. “Joe Rodgers had a really nice game,” said Burgess of the senior Co-Captain who had eight saves. “His passing was under control. Aaron Polk came up huge. He had an assist, one steal, two field blocks and drew an ejection. Consistently the player who made the biggest difference, in the quietest fashion was Jake Frese. As a ninth grader to be out there is a great thing. He played like a kid with varsity experience and controlled the center game. Jake drew five exclusions and a penalty shot. Van was our playmaker this year. He learned to be a lot more patient and took charge as a captain. He was out of the Semifinal game against La Jolla with three fouls and he was excited that he got to come back for one more game.”

Burgess, who guided the team to an overall record of 21-9 in 2011, discussed the game from his perspective. “It was a fun game for me to coach. The work is done in the day-to-day practices and I feel this team got it done during the course of the week. They were prepared. It was a really fun year. There was not a single game where we came away without learning something. I thought the kids were focused and locked into the game. They trained hard enough to have the fitness and the skills. It was a competent group of athletes coming together to achieve a singular goal. That is what sport is all about. Our younger kids were contributors as well, pushing the ‘A’ Team in practice. The harder the ‘B’ team pushed, the better the ‘A’ team got. We had the instant gratification of being CIF Champions. The kids had a really nice year.”

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