By RICHARD J. MARCUS
FOR THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
As its 2012 season ended Friday, the Santa Rosa JC women’s water polo team could take pride in a successful campaign made possible by resiliency and overachievement.
No. 5 SRJC lost 6-3 to No. 4 Sierra College (Rocklin) in the first round of the NorCal Tournament at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill. It was the third loss in three tries for the Bear Cubs (8-17) against the Wolverines. SRJC finished ranked fifth out of 16 Northern California community college teams.
“We got further than I thought we would get. We were not slated to get here (NorCal Tournament),” SRJC coach Jill McCormick said. “We were not disappointed with our performance.”
Challenged by injuries, lack of depth and a tough schedule, SRJC started slow, losing its first seven games. The situation appeared to be hopeless.
“The girls knew the gig and situation we were in,” McCormick said. “We just fought through the games we got our teeth kicked in at … We had to find a way to survive.”
McCormick said the majority of the Bear Cubs opponents field 14 players while the Bear Cubs only played with nine players most of the season.
“We don’t have depth; it has been an issue for us all season,” McCormick said. “Nine players is pretty tough because you can’t absorb anything.
Unifying under the motto “Breathe, Believe and Battle” used by a 2012 U.S. gold-medal Summer Olympics beach volleyball team, the Bear Cubs rallied and got their first win on the road in late September, a 7-5 victory over Modesto.
Though the Bear Cubs played approximately .500 ball the remainder of the season and finished 5-5 in conference play, they got into the Big 8 Tournament and beat Modesto again in the first round. The victory advanced Santa Rosa to the winner’s bracket and ultimately qualified it for the six-team NorCal Tournament.
“Our goal this year was just to get to the NorCal Tournament,” said McCormick, who completed her 13th season as Bear Cubs coach.
A second goal, McCormick said, would be for the Bear Cubs to win their first game in that tournament. The icing on the cake, however, didn’t happen. A stronger Sierra team was able to get the Bear Cubs in early foul trouble. The Bear Cubs’ top player, Gabi Slavid got two quick fouls (three fouls and a player is disqualified), sidelining her for much of the game.
“Having Gabi out hurt us. She is our best player offensively and defensively,” McCormick said. “That’s a hole we can’t fill.”
Two other Santa Rosa players, Megan McGrath (two goals) and Becky Kremer (one goal) accrued two fouls in the first half and the Wolverines took advantage late in the second quarter. With the game tied 3-3, Sierra’s Sonia Stewart scored with 19 seconds before halftime to take a 4-3 lead.
“They (Sierra) were doing a better job than us getting player exclusions,” McCormick said. “Their offense got us in defensive mismatches.”
Santa Rosa was shut out in the second half by the Wolverines’ defense, anchored by goalie Brittany Tyra. The Bear Cubs had their chances with three power-plays in the third quarter but could not convert on any of them. Santa Rosa’s chances dried up in the fourth quarter.
“Sierra’s goalie (Tyra) is one of the best goalies in Northern California,” McCormick said. “We generated our opportunities and came out fired up in the fourth quarter. We just couldn’t break Sierra’s press defense.”
While the Bear Cubs got blanked offensively in the second half, the Wolverines scored two insurance goals in the third quarter before Santa Rosa was able to hold them scoreless in the final quarter.
“Defensively, we figured it out (by the fourth quarter) but by that time it was too late,” McCormick said. “The better team won.”
Santa Rosa’s goalie Justine Filipello had seven saves and two steals in the loss.
Three Bear Cubs were granted accolades for the season and two tournaments:
Slavid was first team All-Big 8 Conference and second team All-Northern California.
McGrath was second team All-Big 8 Conference and Tournament teams, and All-Northern California team.
Michelle Pollastrini was second team All-Big 8 Conference.
The resiliency from this season should pay off next year. Santa Rosa will have eight returning players from this year’s squad for the 2013 season.
“We could have rolled over early this season and given up,” McCormick said. “But you just fight through it.”