DP at top of its game in rout of Dons in TOC final

Santa Barbara was riding high going to into Saturday’s Tournament of Champions title game, posting back-to-back dramatic wins over higher-ranked teams to play in it for the first time since 2004.

The Dons, however, ran up against the juggernaut that is the three-time CIF champion Dos Pueblos girls water polo team and were dominated, 11-3, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at the Santa Barbara High pool.

It was the third straight TOC title for the Chargers and their 52nd straight victory. They are 15-0 on the season with two tournament titles in the bag — they won the Newport Holiday Cup in late December.

They won the TOC in their typical business-like fashion, playing tough defense, counterattacking effectively and stretching defenses with quick ball movement.

“We just try to look at it like another game,” DP coach Chris Parrish said of playing in a tournament final. “(The players) are pretty confident in what they can do. They approach it with the same mentality, whether it’s a championship game, regular-season game, or whatever.”

“We wanted to have a good game no matter who we were playing,” said DP’s Jaime Neushul. “We know Santa Barbara is going to be a tough game, because they’re well coached and a really good team. We were just ready for anyone, and we have a lot of firepower behind us.”

Tournament MVP Kiley Neushul fights off a defender before taking a shot early in Saturday's title match.

Jamie Neushul was the main figure in the DP arsenal in the final with five goals. In the 13-6 semifinal romp over Newport Harbor, it was her sister, Stanford-bound Kiley who led the way. She scored seven goals in the game. In other games, it’s been Tiera Schroeder or Kodi Hill.

“That’s the plan, try to make it hard to guard,” Parrish said. “There’s 4-5 girls in the pool that you have to be aware of.”

Santa Barbara (12-5) scored the game’s first goal as Kelsey O’Brien drilled home a shot on a 6-on-5 situation with 1:32 left in the opening period. Hill tied it for the Chargers and Jaime Neushul followed with a skip shot inside the near post to give them the lead for good.

Tournament MVP Kiley Neushul fed Lauren Shackelford for a 3-1 lead and Jaime Neushul made it 4-1, scoring on a rebound of her penalty shot that slammed off the post .

The play that defined DP’s dominance of this game came near the end of the first half. Schroeder cut in front of a Santa Barbara player to intercept a pass and fired a long ball to Jaime Neushul. She faked goalkeeper Maddie Trabucco before firing a shot into the back of the net for a 6-2 advantage.

Dos Pueblos made it perfectly clear it was not going to allow the Dons to stay close like they did in their Channel League game 10 days. DP won 6-5.

Asked if his team ran out of steam after the dramatic quarterfinal and semifinal wins over third-ranked Laguna Beach and No. 2 Los Alamitos, Santa Barbara coach Mark Walsh said no.

“I don’t know what it is,” he said. “I thought we competed really well in the first quarter. I thought we created good opportunities. We just turned the ball over too much against them. Eventually, it’s going to catch up to you. I thought our conditioning was good. We were there but we just had too many mistakes, and they started putting away shots.

“This was a great test to see where you’re at,” Walsh added about playing DP. “We didn’t pass today. Still, it’s a great test.”