GWP: Dons end drought, win Tournament of Champions

The last time Santa Barbara High won its girls water polo Tournament of Champions, U.S. Olympic gold medalist Kami Craig was a junior playing for the Dons and the current SBHS team members were probably just learning how to play the sport or swim.

Santa Barbara used a big third quarter and a strong defensive performance to defeat defending CIF Division 1 champion Newport Harbor 7-5 in Saturday’s championship game at the SBHS Pool. It was the Dons first title since 2004 and the eighth time the Sailors finished as runners-up.

Dons senior goalie Madeline Trabucco was named the tournament MVP and senior Kelsey O’Brien was chosen to the all-tournament team.

“This group of seniors, when they came in as freshmen, they were pretty big pieces of our varsity then,” SBHS coach Mark Walsh said. “They’ve taken their lumps and put in their time. We’ve done a little better (in the tournament) each year. We went sixth their first year, we got second two years ago, we lost in the quarters a year ago and finished fifth.

“For us to beat Foothill and Newport in one day is a huge accomplishment.”

Santa Barbara (13-4) erupted for five goals in the third period to overcome a 3-2 deficit at halftime. Betsy Hendrix evened the score with a goal at two meters early in the period and Rocio Fesembeck fired a shot that was redirected by a defender for the go-ahead goal.

The third quarter proved to be the difference maker for the Dons on Saturday. They scored four unanswered goals coming out of halftime to beat top-ranked Foothill in the semifinals.

Asked if he gives stirring halftime speeches to inspire his team in the second half, Walsh said he said didn’t say much to his players at the break against Newport.

“I talked to them for about a minute,” he said. “We just talked about a couple of things. Carly Christian was lighting us up and she was hitting shots from everywhere. She is always our emphasis. You always have to worry about (Elissia) Schilling at two meters. So, those were kind of the main things I was worrying about. Then I went over to talk to my son for a couple of minutes.”

Up by a goal, Fesembeck made a series of plays that turned the game around for the Dons. She intercepted a pass, took the ball up the pool and passed to Sophie Trabucco for a goal that gave the Dons a two-goal lead (5-3) with 2:23 left in the period.

“I felt she had a really good feel for the game,” Walsh said of Fesembeck. “Sometimes she forces things and sometimes she’s too passive. She had a really good feel. I was a little reluctant to pull her out because she was playing so well, but I wanted to make sure she had a good fourth quarter.”

Rachel Whitelegge of Newport Harbor (12-4) scored at the near post to make it a 5-4 game, but Santa Barbara responded with goal by Kelsey O’Brien, who fought off a defender and goalie Cleo Harrington to put the ball in the cage. Anna Brummett threw a cross-pool pass that led to the goal, giving the Dons a 6-4 lead.

After Whitelegge scored again for the Sailors, Sophie Trabucco frustrated them with a goal from distance to make it a 7-5 game going into the fourth period.

“I really like how we responded on offense after (Whitelegge) came down and hit a shot to make it a one-goal game,” Walsh said. “We had a bunch of girls make shots.”

The solid play of Trabucco in goal and the Dons’ defense kept Newport Harbor at bay in the final period.

Santa Barbara’s defense shut down the UCLA-bound Schilling, but Christian, a UCSB recruit, got free on the wing for three goals in the first half, two coming on 6-on-5 situations.

Newport’s defense also played tough. The Sailors forced Santa Barbara to shoot from the perimeter and Harrington got her hands on almost everything. Betsy Hendrix put one past her from outside and Brummett scored the Dons’ second goal on a lob from two meters.

The Dons hope the tournament title is a good omen for the future. When they won it 2004, they went on to capture a CIF title.

“Everyday in practice, (we say) we don’t want too lose anymore,” said senior Kelsey O’Brien. “We want to get those wins and keep going, and we want to be seeded high for CIF.”

MVP–Madeline Trabucco, Santa Barbara
Kelsey O’Brien, Santa Barbara
Elissia Schilling, Newport Harbor
Carly Christian, Newport Harbor
Hannah Lapkin, Foothill
Sydney Groot, Foothill
Emily Laughlin, Santa Margarita
Ioanna Haralabidis, Corona del Mar
Lexi Del Toro, Laguna Beach
Stephanie Mutafyan, Los Alamitos