By Joe Naiman
Ramona High School’s girls water polo team won the first league championship in the history of its program Feb. 8 by defeating Valley Center for the Valley League title at the Jaguars’ pool.
“Long time coming, but I’m very happy and very pleased,” said coach Donnie Williams. “They deserve this Valley League championship. They worked hard for it.”
The Bulldogs played 15 games in the final three weeks of the regular season, including three matches in the final week, culminating with the win over Valley Center. Three contests in four days, including two league matches, ended Ramona’s regular season.
Ramona’s players were able to practice Feb. 4, the first Monday in three weeks which didn’t involve the Bulldogs’ participation in a tournament. The Bulldogs also stayed local Feb. 5 when they hosted Del Norte in a league match.
“It was a good game for us,” Williams said.
Feb. 5 was also Senior Night. Ramona recognized seniors Brianna Campbell, Rachel Hogervorst, Megan Kinnaman, Tiffany Larson, and Chelsea Volk while also acknowledging the six Del Norte seniors.
Ramona scored both first-period goals and led the Nighthawks by an 8-0 score at halftime.
“We mixed it up a little bit more,” Williams said of the second quarter.
The Bulldogs then slowed down the pace and worked on plays, keeping the score at 10-0 after three quarters and leading to a final score of 12-0.
Larson and Morgan Wallace each played a half as Ramona’s goalkeeper and shared the shutout, combining for eight saves. Hogervorst had three goals and five assists.
“All the girls played good,” Williams said.
Ramona’s non-league game Feb. 7 at Mt. Carmel High School was the Sundevils’ senior night; Mt. Carmel also recognized Ramona’s 12th-graders. Although no league standings were at stake, both teams are in Division II for playoff purposes and the contest had seeding implications.
“We had to come away with a win there,” Williams said.
Holly Smith gave Ramona a 1-0 lead by scoring a goal with 10 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
“It was a good close game early on,” Williams said.
Ramona took a 2-0 lead before the Sundevils put a positive number on the scoreboard. The Bulldogs led 5-1 at halftime and 9-3 after three periods.
“That was really exciting for us,” Williams said. “Mt. Carmel’s always been a nemesis for us.”
The 10-5 win was Ramona’s first victory ever against the Sundevils.
“That’s a huge win for us, especially in their pool,” Williams said.
“Good strong game by all the girls,” he said. “Our girls played tough and played one of their best games of the year, offensively, defensively, all the way around.”
Cassie Bernas had four goals while Smith added three goals and also had three steals. Hogervorst contributed four assists and five steals. Larson made nine saves.
Ramona was supposed to play at Valley Center on Jan. 8, but a Valley Center medical situation led to an agreement by both teams to postpone the game. The Bulldogs and Jaguars both entered the Feb. 8 contest with 3-0 Valley League records.
While the players were not doubting Williams’ ability as a coach, Williams recognized that confidence would be a critical issue and told his players to blame him for any mistakes committed against Mt. Carmel. He carried that direction of assigned blame into the Valley Center game.
“They did a good job with that,” Williams said. “They were feeling pretty confident.”
The criticism of Williams thus allowed the team to shake off a scoreless first quarter in which Ramona took nine shots.
“Just didn’t quite finish through on those,” Williams said. “We went 0 for 9 on quality shots.”
Valley Center took three shots during the period, one of which was lobbed over Larson’s hands for a goal.
Four minutes into the second period, Ramona scored its first goal to tie the game.
“Holly Smith broke it open right off the bat,” Williams said.
Later in the quarter Valley Center drew a 20-second penalty. During the power play Jocelyn Schwegler scored to give the Bulldogs what would become a 2-1 halftime lead.
“That was a nice goal on Jocelyn’s part,” Williams said.
Ramona had a 4-1 lead with two minutes remaining in the third quarter before the Jaguars scored again. Ramona ended the period with a 5-2 advantage.
“We had good quality shots,” Williams said.
Ramona’s 9-4 lead became a 9-5 final score when the Jaguars scored with 30 seconds remaining.
“The girls played strong, solid defense the whole time,” Williams said.
Bernas had four goals, Smith scored three times, and Paulina Bernd joined Schwegler in scoring once. Smith had five steals and Hogervorst contributed two assists.
“They moved the ball around pretty well,” Williams said.
Larson had 11 saves and added two steals against the Jaguars.
“The girls were pretty proud of themselves to get a Valley League championship out of that,” Williams said.
Ramona ended the regular season with a 19-9 overall record, including the 4-0 Valley League figure. A first-round playoff bye translates into a playoff opener Saturday, Feb. 16, at La Jolla High School’s Coggan Pool.
“The girls are playing strong, and I’m proud of every one of them,” Williams said.