By Joe Naiman
Ramona High School’s boys water polo team ended its first week of play with a 4-2 record after winning its Sept. 4 season opener at Helix High School and three of the five Poway Invitational tournament games, played Sept. 5 to 7.
“It gives us a lot of information on what we need to work on,” said Coach Donnie Williams.
“It’s a process. We’re not going to get there overnight,” Williams said. “We hadn’t played that much together.”
Ramona’s 8-7 win at Helix included the Highlanders scoring the game’s final two goals, one of which was with a minute remaining to narrow the margin to one score.
“It got pretty exciting,” Williams said. “It was a close game.”
Ramona led 3-1 after the first period.
Helix took a 5-3 halftime lead, but Ramona scored both third-quarter goals and had an 8-5 lead in the fourth quarter before Helix closed out the scoring.
“We struggled with passing,” Williams said.
Jesse Reiling scored four goals for Ramona, Levi Vermeulen placed two shots into the net, and Ryan Hall and Garret Klem had a goal apiece.
The Bulldogs’ 14 steals consisted of six by Klem, three for Reiling, two for goalie Taylor Holas, and one apiece by Hall, Thomas Abbott, and Vinnie Talento. Holas made six saves while sharing goalkeeping duties with Jack Sundberg, who had three saves.
Ramona and Helix are both in Division II for CIF playoff purposes.
“It was a good win against a D-II team right off the bat, so that’s a plus,” Williams said.
The coach believes the primary purpose of tournaments should be player development rather than seeking a championship. Because a first-round loss in the Poway tournament places a team in the bottom bracket, the Bulldogs’ opening loss Sept. 5 to Poway at Eastlake High School eliminated Ramona from a top-16 finish.
“I knew they were going to be tough,” Williams said of the Titans. “I didn’t realize how strong they were.”
Counterattack goals helped the Titans to a 3-0 lead before Ramona scored the first quarter’s final goal. Poway led 7-2 at halftime and 9-4 after three periods before finishing the game on the preferred end of the 11-5 score.
Ramona’s two Sept. 6 games were also at Eastlake. The first was a 7-5 win over El Camino. Ramona led 1-0 after the first period and 4-0 at halftime.
“We struggled to get on the scoreboard,” Williams said. “Our shooting was off.”
The Wildcats scored the first goal of the second half, although Ramona had a 6-1 lead at the end of the third period and a 7-2 lead before El Camino scored the game’s final three goals. Sundberg had a save apiece in the first and third quarters. Holas made two saves in the second period and one in the fourth quarter. Abbot, Klem, and Vermeulen had two steals apiece while Hall, Reiling, and Spencer Schwegler each recorded one steal.
The Bulldogs’ second Sept. 6 match was against Del Norte, who will be a Valley League opponent this year. The game was tied at 2-2 after the first quarter, although Ramona led 7-2 at halftime. The Nighthawks trailed by an 8-6 margin after scoring the third period’s final two goals and then scored the first three goals of the fourth quarter, taking a 9-8 lead with 2:20 remaining.
With three seconds remaining in the fourth period, Talento shot from just inside the halfway line. The ball went into the net as the buzzer sounded, sending the game into golden goal overtime.
Williams set up a play in the event the Bulldogs won the overtime sprint, which they did. Vermeulen passed to Talento, who placed the ball into the net for a 10-9 Ramona victory.
“It was pretty exciting,” Williams said.
That game ended at approximately 10:45 p.m. The following day the Bulldogs traveled to Westview High School for two matches. The first Sept. 7 contest was against Eastlake. Ramona trailed 4-1 after the first quarter but led by a 6-4 margin at halftime. The Titans tied the score in the third period before a Ramona goal gave the Bulldogs a 7-6 lead entering the fourth period. A fourth-period score gave Ramona an 8-6 margin, but the Titans scored the game’s final three goals, including the winning shot with nine seconds left for a 9-8 victory.
“It was a tough one for us,” Williams said.
Ramona closed out the tournament with a 15-14 win over Santa Fe Christian. Ramona’s 4-1 lead in the first quarter was countered by three Eagles goals which caused a 4-4 tie by the end of the period, and Santa Fe Christian led 9-8 at halftime.
“Not a lot of good defense being played,” Williams said. “We couldn’t stop anything, but we were scoring as well.”
After Ramona tied the game at 10-10 during the third period, the Eagles scored the quarter’s final three goals for a 13-10 lead. The Bulldogs scored five of the six fourth-quarter goals. With 11 seconds left, Reiling scored his ninth goal of the game and fourth of the quarter, following a pass from Hall.
Although Williams was pleased with Reiling’s offensive performance, especially in critical situations, he would prefer a more balanced offense.
“Jesse carried a heavy load of scoring, and we can’t have that,” Williams said.
Klem scored Ramona’s other fourth-quarter goal. Cory Davison had three goals for the Bulldogs with Hall and Vermeulen also scoring once.
“All in all I’m just really proud of what we did in the tournament,” Williams said.
The Bulldogs travel to Valhalla High School for Thursday night’s game.