BACK-TO-BACK! Chargers win another CIF title

IRVINE — Danelle Little’s birthday present was a day late, but worth the wait.

The Dos Pueblos girls water polo coach was dunked in the pool and serenaded by her team after the No. 2 Chargers won their second consecutive CIF title Saturday with a 3-2 win over top-ranked Corona del Mar at the Woollett Aquatics Center in Irvine.

“My birthday was yesterday, but I told them that this is what I wanted,” said Little.

Sami Hill racked up 17 monster saves in the game to one-up Stanford-bound Kate Baldoni in a matchup of two of the top goalies in the nation. The Sea Queens, who lost to Newport Harbor in overtime of the Division I title match last year (DP won the D-II title over Santa Barbara), had two possessions to tie it in the final minute but came up short.

Hill, who was still grimacing after making a stop with her face at the 1:10 mark, made a long reach for a save with 35 ticks left, and the Sea Queens got a steal and timeout to set up a score-or-go-home possession with 12.9 seconds left.

“Oh my gosh I was so nervous,” said Hill. “We were just trying to focus on playing our best defense.”

CDM couldn’t get a shot on frame, and DP’s party began.

Sophomore sensation Kiley Neushul went scoreless in the game after scoring five times in the semifinals, as CDM focused in on her defensively throughout.

“We knew they were going to be double-teaming her. Our team is a lot more than just Kiley Neushul,” said Little.

Tiera Schroeder struck first with a bang-bang goal off of an assist from Jessica Morelos on the Chargers’ third possession of the game. The Sea Queens got some momentum towards the end of the first period, evening the score while picking up three steals in the final four minutes.

Kodi Hill found Alex Hill with 1:27 left in the first half to put DP up 2-1 heading into the third.

Sami Hill made the play of the day late in the third, when CDM’s Heather Van Hiel broke away from the pack on a counterattack and sent a beautiful looping shot over the DP goalie’s head. The rowdy CDM cheering section celebrated as if it had gone in, but Hill had barely kept it out with a flick of her left hand.

“That was crazy, it was really close,” she said. “It was up to the ref at that point.”

Amanda Redfern promptly responded with a goal on the other end to make it 3-1. CDM scored on a power-play midway through the fourth, but the Chargers’ defense shut it down from there.

“Amanda’s my best friend, so I’m really happy that she got to score a goal in this game,” said Hill.

This season was not without adversity for the team, which was without Neushul at the beginning of the year and Hill near the end, as both suffered hand injuries. Hill played with a cast on her right hand in the match and said it was not completely healed yet.

“I think having to overcome those times when we didn’t have them just made us better,” said Little.

Neushul made sure to extend her best wishes to seniors Siena Van Alphen and Morelos after the game, saying that they have both had a huge impact on the program’s success.

And while the two seniors will move on, there’s certainly enough pieces left to think about a three-peat. But the ever-modest Little wasn’t even close to thinking about that on Saturday.

“I don’t think this has even hit me yet,” she said. “I just feel really lucky to have these athletes with me… I don’t know what to say. I guess I should say I want to go to Disneyland.”

The Magic Kingdom was just a few miles away, but here’s guessing the bus ride home was more fun than anything Mickey Mouse could offer.