Clovis girls rally to win D-I water polo title

The Clovis girls water polo team rallied down 2-1 at half to defeat Arroyo Grande 6-5 to capture the school’s second straight Central Section D-I title. PAUL MEADORS/CLOVIS ROUNDUP

Down 2-1 at half to No. 1 seed Arroyo Grande, the Clovis Cougars didn’t flinch. After all, they’ve been there before.

And on the biggest stage in the biggest game of the year, the second-seeded Cougars responded with three goals in the third quarter while not allowing one, withstanding a furious Eagle rally to hold on to a 6-5 victory to capture their second straight Central Section Division I championship.

“I am insanely happy,” said goalie Emily Lancaster. “We worked so hard for this and I think we deserve it.”

Lancaster, a senior, recorded 12 saves with her long arms, gobbling up and deflecting shot after shot.

“Emily Lancaster played her best game of the season hands down,” Clovis coach Noah Minton said. “I’ve never seen her play that good ever.”

The tide turned at the 5:32 mark in the third quarter when Sanci Sonkoly scored to tie the game at two and, two minutes later, sophomore Libby Alexander took the lead for good at 3-2 with a powerful right-handed shot to the back of the cage.

Isa Sonkoly would then score on a breakaway with 21 seconds left and a 4-2 lead into the fourth quarter.

Abby Mammen, a senior and the favorite to win the TRAC Player of the Year, opened the fourth with two goals for a seemingly comfortable 6-2 lead.

That’s when the Eagles (24-7) rallied with three straight goals, cutting the Cougars lead to 6-5 with 23 seconds left in the game.

However, Clovis (23-9) would play keep-away for the final seconds, securing the school’s sixth title in school history.

“We knew they were going to be a challenge,” Minton said. “They are fighters. I knew it was going to be a four-quarter game against this team.”

Both Clovis and Arroyo Grande came in with virtually identical stats. Goals scored: Clovis 324, Arroyo Grande 335. Goals allowed: Clovis 195, Arroyo Grande 191.

Clovis senior Sydney Cooper, who received the Jim Coiner Award for top sportsmanship in the Central Section before the game, scored the only goal early in the first quarter.

“I felt like we needed to start off with a bang so I just went for it,” Cooper said. “I knew it was our game from the beginning. I am so proud of my team and how hard we worked for this.”

After running away with the TRAC title at 10-0, Clovis beat Sanger 14-4 and Clovis West 10-4 to advance to the title game.

Cooper, clearly the vocal leader on the team, had some motivating words at halftime for her teammates: “We just have to go, this is our game.”

“We are such a family and I think that’s what works well for us,” Cooper said. “We are so connected to each other.”