GWP: Royals take down Edison, advance to quarterfinals

Two months ago, the San Marcos girls water polo team ran into a patch of rough water as some key players suffered injuries and the losses began to mount.

Coach Chuckie Roth’s team gutted it out during that tough stretch and now it’s playing in peak form.

The Royals showed it on Thursday as they pulled out an 11-8 win over a physical Edison team in the first-round of the CIF Division 1 playoffs before a big crowd at the San Marcos pool.

Goalie Jenna Phreaner was steller, stopping 11 shots and recording three steals, while the defense contained Edison’s top scoring threat Melissa Balding, holding her to two goals.

Offensively, Halie Johnson scored four goals and Hannah Koper, Megan Bergthold and Haley Gellert added two goals apiece for the Royals (15-13), who lost to the Chargers twice during the regular season.

The win advances San Marcos to a quarterfinal matchup against second-seeded Foothill on Saturday.

“I didn’t know I’d ever see that, to be honest with you,” a humbled Roth said of playing in the quarterfinals. “We have two really good teams in town and we were lucky enough to beat DP by one. The season seemed so dismal back in December. We had Hannah Koper out, we had Jenna Phreaner out, we had Fran Kuesis out; we were hurting.

“Everyone of these kids just dug in deep,” he continued. “I remember talking to them, saying, ‘This will be the best season you ever had. You guys just got to believe, you got to be healthy, you got dig in; everyone is going to become 10 percent better with the other girls out. When we get them back we’re going to be better.‘ That’s what is happening.”

Phreaner time and again denied Edison’s top scorers.

“Jenna is just playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Roth said. “She’s playing great and I’m really proud of her.”

“We were just really pumped and excited to play them,” Phreaner said about facing Edison in the playoffs. “We came out ready to play and we pulled it off, so I’m really excited about it.”

Edison, the No. 2 team from the Sunset League, finishes at 14-15. The Chargers were led by Sabrina Jensen with four goals.

The Royals built a 4-1 lead in the second period, but Edison scored three unanswered goals to tie the score at halftime. Johnson made it 5-4 but Balding answered with her first goal of the game to knot the score at 5-5.

Koper then delivered the goal that put the Royals ahead for good. She got her goggles knocked down to her chin in the process.

After Phreaner blocked a shot, Koper scored from distance to put the Royals ahead 7-5 with 1:57 left in the third period. Megan Bergthold finished an assist from Johnson on a 6-on-5 situation for an 8-5 advantage. Jensen scored at the near post to make it 8-6 going into the final period.

Goalie Jessica Santos gave Edison a momentum boost by blocking a penalty shot early in the fourth period — she blocked two in the game and stopped several open looks by the Royals.

“That’s the best I’ve ever seen her play,” said Roth

The Chargers got two looks on a power play but Phreaner kept them out of the cage with a tip over the bar and a block.

Johnson then beat Santos on a deflected shot and Kate Coski followed with a goal to put the Royals up 10-6 with 3:14 to play.

The Royals held on for the victory.

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