The Justin-Siena girls water polo team held Napa High to five goals for the third straight Vine Valley Athletic League game in two seasons Tuesday, this time with a 12-5 win at Napa Valley College.
Last year, the Braves lost to Napa High 5-3 before avenging the loss with an 11-5 win to grab a share of the VVAL title with the Grizzlies.
Justin-Siena returned to NVC on Thursday and routed American Canyon, 18-3, for a 15th consecutive VVAL victory that showed it is once again the team to beat this year.
“I’m really proud of the way we played defense,” said first-year Justin-Siena girls head coach Jane Hansen said after Tuesday’s game. “(Sophomore goalkeeper) Twylah Borck had a really strong game in goal, and by playing good team defense we were able to neutralize Napa’s really good players.”
The Braves have just two seniors, captain Meghan Hansen and multi-sport athlete Jocelyn Stojack. Their juniors are Lexi Hollister, Jaxon Levy and Angelina Phinney. Along with Borck, their sophomores are Madelayne Vanoni, Cassie Richardson and Sarah Reynolds. Their freshmen are Elle Baskerville, Taylor Blakely and Carlie Fiorito.
While the Braves lost no one to graduation, Napa was hurt by losing four players – despite returning perhaps the league’s top scoring threat and goalkeeper in seniors Meena Khan and Caitlyn Berryhill, respectively.
Scoring for the Napa girls were Angelina Adams, Anna Miller and Maddy Alexander. Rounding out the team are Rina Klieman, Emily Dusky, Keaton Flynn, Tyler Lu, Quincy Frommelt and Violet McCaffrey.
“We have a couple of strong players and they were able to shut that down,” second-year Napa head coach Ashiq Khan said after Tuesday’s game. “We have some changes we’re going to make moving forward and hopefully we can capitalize on those. Not taking anything away from Justin, we’ve got a really young team and we have some work to do.”
After a slow start offensively, Justin-Siena’s shots eventually started finding the back of the net and the Braves were able to pull away for the win.
“I think our depth was the key to winning the match,” noted Coach Hansen. “Even though we don’t have a ton of players on our team, all six of our starters have played club water polo and they work really hard in practice and play well as a team. We were able to capitalize today on where we found Napa’s weaknesses.”
Justin-Siena could have its hands full when it visits Vintage on Tuesday. The Crushers lost 15-14 in double-overtime and 14-6 to the Braves last year, but lost only one senior to graduation.
“Vintage is going to be a tough rival for us,” Coach Hansen said. “We need to stay focused and take it one game at a time.”
Coach Hansen, Meghan’s mother, came to the Braves from Sonoma Valley High, where she coached swimming for five years, winning four boys and three girls Sonoma County League titles. The Terra Linda High alumnus was the first girl to play on the Trojans’ boys team in 1988 and she also played for the USA Junior National Team.
The coach went on to play for UC San Diego, winning two national titles while earning a communications degree. She owns Sonoma Aquatic Club and also started the Sonoma Swim Sea Dragons in 2008. Her older daughter, Elizabeth, starred at Justin-Siena and now plays for UCSD.
The Napa boys earned a program split by winning a 21-19 slugfest over Justin-Siena in Tuesday’s later game.
“We scored 21 goals, which is good for us,” said Ashiq Khan, who also coaches the boys. “But we’re not really happy giving up 17 goals on the defensive end.”
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Like their girls, the Grizzlies also lost four seniors from last year’s team. But they have six seniors this season in Gibson Page, Gabe Cepoi, Jake O’Connor, Aidan Ramblas, Kadel Hock and Lucas Opp. Rounding out the team are junior Lucas Brandon and sophomores Kaliq Khan, Angelo Baracco, Sam King and Nathan Schwarze.
Coach Khan said Napa’s offensive game plan was to spread the pool out and get everyone involved in the offense.
“They had an offense we didn’t contain very well and our defense kind of collapsed a bit and allowed them to stay in the game,” he admitted. “We really should have been up a lot more than where we were. We had a lot of good opportunities and good looks and passed the ball well, which ended up being to our benefit on the offensive end.”
First-year head coach Jordan “JoJo” Williams’ Braves will look for her first VVAL win Tuesday when they visit Mackenzie Anderson’s Vintage boys in a battle of boys teams with female head coaches.
“It feels empowering and so rewarding,” Williams said Thursday about coaching the boys. “I was not expecting to take over the boys team, but once I met the boys I knew this is where I needed to be. They are a fairly new group of boys and I am new to being a head coach of 22 boys. I have had little experience with coaching boys, but this opportunity has really shifted my coaching experience in the best way possible. These boys probably won’t believe it, but they have taught me about community, leadership and grit.”
Her team is led by senior captain Andrew Baskerville, sophomore captain Tommy Crist, and fellow returners Casey Kleis and Bryce Mayo.
“Andrew is a standout player in and out of the pool. He is a true definition of a student-athlete. He upholds a high GPA and a stellar scoring record as well,” she said. “Tommy has taken me by surprise with his leadership skills at such a young age. He came onto this team and immediately had a strong presence about him and ultimately has been a big leader on this team.
“Casey and Bryce both bring tenacity to this team. They work hard in practice and even harder in the games. They are key players to our team this year and also bring about a leadership and a voice in the pool.”
Williams began playing at age 9 in Santa Barbara under Cathy Neushul and Connor Levoff. She played club water polo for Santa Barbara 805, and four varsity seasons for Dos Pueblos High in Goleta before continuing her career on an athletic scholarship at Sonoma State University, where she will play her final season as a redshirt senior in the spring.
She led the Seawolves with 48 goals and 61 points in 24 games this past spring – just ahead of the 44 goals and 52 points of 2016 New Tech High graduate Annika Erickson, who starred for Napa High and Santa Rosa Junior College – and also led them with 78 drawn exclusions. Williams was the only Sonoma State player to be selected to the 2019 Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches Women’s Water Polo Division II All-America Second Team.
Her road to Justin-Siena began when she started coaching with the Napa Valley Premier Aquatics club led by former Braves head coach Joey Doyle.
“It was from there, and my playing experience, that I knew I wanted to continue my water polo career as a coach,” she said. “Sure enough, a job opened up at Justin-Siena and it felt like all the cards were falling into place. I have been playing water polo for 12 years now and I still feel like there is something new to learn and that’s why I love the sport so much.
“The best part about having a new team is there are no expectations. We get to set our own expectations for ourselves. Our goal this season is to learn and grow as a cohesive unit. Our goal is to surprise ourselves with the talent that is in front of us. Our goal is to beat Napa and to play with heart and grit.”
The Justin-Siena and Napa High boys began playing Friday in the two-day Vintage Valley Tournament at NVC, where action continues all day Saturday.
Register sports writer Andy Wilcox contributed to this story.