Courtney Batcheller fires for a first-quarter goal Stanford Club's 10-7 win over Clovis in Saturday's semifinal. One of six St. Francis alumnae with Stanford Club this season, the lefty played in her final club game Sunday as the team took 14th place at the National Junior Olympics.
Had it not been for a brief letdown in group play, it could have been a much more auspicious outcome for the Stanford Club 18-and-under A-team at the Club Water Polo National Junior Olympics.
After leading for most of Friday’s preliminary qualifier at Stanford University’s against Newport Water Polo, Stanford Club was overtaken midway through the fourth quarter on a close-range shot from the center position and ultimately fell 5-4. It was Stanford Club’s second loss in group play, forcing the team to the second tier of 12 teams in bracket play to compete for — at best — 13th place.
“We kind of lost it,” Stanford Club attacker Sami Strutner said. “We were ahead for the whole game, and then in the fourth quarter we started having defensive lapses. … Then we just weren’t able to tie it up. That was pretty upsetting.”
Stanford Club ran a designed play on its final possession and succeeded in getting the ball to attacker Caroline Anderson. Her shot missed high though, and Newport’s lead held up to force Stanford Club to the secondary playoff bracket.
After two wins to advance to Sunday’s secondary-bracket final, Stanford Club fell by another one-goal margin, falling 12-11 to Huntington Beach Water Polo at Gunn High School in the final match of the season to settle for 14th place in the tourney. Leading by as many as three goals in the first half, Stanford Club ultimately surrendered the lead on a fourth-quarter counterattack by Huntington Beach.
“Everybody was a little bummed we didn’t win our last game,” Stanford Club’s Niki Reynolds said. “But we were happy with our overall performance (in the tournament).”
For Stanford Club, there was plenty to be happy about. Through eight Junior Olympic games, Stanford Club posted a 5-3 record and outscored its opponents 88-54. The team graduates 10 seniors, all of whom are slated to play collegiately. Nine of them are headed to Division-I programs.
“I’m very happy with our performance,” Stanford Club head coach Kyle Utsumi said. “We got contributions from so many players. And for our seniors, I’ll enjoy watching them succeed with their college teams.”
In Stanford Club’s final win of the season — a 10-7 triumph over Clovis Water Polo Saturday at Gunn — the team showcased its multi-faceted scoring approach. Seven different players scored for Stanford Club, with center Caitlin Stuewe receiving many rave reviews from her teammates.
Stuewe — a Sacred Heart Prep grad who will attend USC in the fall — fronted a quick and creative attack which saw Stanford Club jump out to a 6-1 lead at the half.
Courtney Batcheller got Stanford Club on the board less than two minutes into the match. Just over a minute later, Stanford Club bided its time with strong perimeter passing before Strutner struck from the post.
The tandem of Batcheller and Strutner are accustomed to such displays in the pool. Two of six St. Francis alums on the club squad this season, they celebrated championships in each the West Catholic Athletic League and the Central Coast Section with the Lancers this year.
“We had a knockout season,” Strutner said.
In the second half, Clovis rallied from behind to make a game of it. By the midway point of the fourth quarter, Clovis had outscored Stanford Club 4-1 in the half. But with Stanford Club clinging to an 8-6 lead, the defense emerged with two consecutive shutdowns.
“Especially when they got a couple goals back-to-back and they started gaining momentum, we focused more on defense,” Batcheller said. “We realized we were up and we just focused on the defensive play to make sure they didn’t get anymore counterattacks. We didn’t really concentrate on scoring goals in that part of the game to make sure we were covered on [defense].”
But Stanford Club did score a goal between the two defensive stops when Anderson exacted a shot from the right side by exploiting a seam just inside the upright.
“Being able to shut down momentum is one of the best things,” Batcheller said. “So, we shut down their momentum really quickly by getting our own momentum up. So, answering back is the best form of stopping their momentum.”
Anderson and Reynolds finished the game with a team-high two goals apiece.
“Our players really played together,” Utsumi said. “They made sure they were communicating and they made the stops they needed to.”
Sunday, Rose Bowl Water Polo captured the gold medal with an 8-3 win over San Diego Shores at Stanford University’s Avery Pool. In the third-place game at Stanford’s Bellardi Pool, 680 Drivers Water Polo took the bronze with a closely contested 8-7 victory over SoCal.