Given the suspension of athletics in the county, the Daily Journal decided to dive into our 20-year archives to bring readers some of our favorite stories over the years.
OCT. 17, 2018 — With a simple wave, Hillsdale boys’ water polo head coach Dan Hibson turned the Knights’ Senior Day into one neither team — nor anyone in the stands — will forget.
Ben Nordell and the Nordell family will certainly always remember. With just over a minute to play and Hillsdale trailing Menlo-Atherton 13-9, Hibson gave his M-A counterpart, Tim Kates, the agreed upon signal and Hibson sent Nordell into the game. A senior with Down syndrome, Nordell got his first taste of actual game play and with Kates and the M-A players aware of what was happening — Kates had informed his team at halftime that there was a chance — Ben Nordell swam into the 2-meter position, took a pass from twin brother Connor Nordell and fired a shot into the back of the net for his first career goal.
The only other player more nervous than Ben Nordell might have been M-A freshman goaltender Owen Taylor who, with his twin brother Jake, have shared time in the cage for the Bears this season.
“I was told not to block it,” Owen Taylor said. “I was worried I might accidentally block it. I tried to make it look like I was trying to save it. I hope I did OK.”
The way Ben Nordell reacted, you would have thought he had just beaten an Olympic team goalie as he thrust his fist in the air in celebration.
“I was so happy,” Connor Nordell said, who serves as the Knights’ team captain. “We’ve always been together. It was only right to go out together our senior year.”
Ben Nordell followed Connor Nordell to the pool as freshmen and it was last season the team noticed that Ben had changed into a Speedo and started warming up with the team. The tradition continued this season and Wednesday was his chance to shine.
Even though it was his first varsity experience, Ben Nordell always knew he would play Wednesday — he believes he’ll play in every game.
Hibson said he came up with the idea of getting Ben Nordell into a game a couple weeks ago. He talked it over with Connor and the rest of the Nordell family, got all the necessary clearances from the school and district and contacted M-A’s Kates to let him know of his plan.
Kates did not hesitated in agreeing.
“I’m just happy to be able to help,” Kates said. “It was a real feel-good moment … for a kid who clearly loves the sport. … I’m glad it worked out.”
Outside of his team captain, Hibson kept his plans under wraps from the rest of the team. His first obligation was to win the match. Only if Hillsdale faced an insurmountable deficit in the fourth quarter would he put Ben Nordell into the game.
“There was no guarantee (he would get in),” Hibson said.
Those concerns were beginning to be realized as the Knights put forth their best effort of the season. The Knights actually held a 2-1 lead midway through the first period and trailed just 3-2 after the opening quarter. But when M-A scored on its first four shots of the second period, and five of six, the Bears held a commanding 9-3 lead at halftime.
But then Hillsdale came alive. Playing against M-A’s mostly second-team lineup, the Knights outscored the Bears 4-2 in the third period and suddenly Hillsdale was right back in the game, down just 11-7 going into the final period.
“They came out and kept it close,” Kates said.
Kates put his starters back in to start the final seven minutes, but the Knights stayed hot. Hillsdale got back-to-back goals, closing to 12-9 with just over two minutes to play.
At that point, Hibson started to wonder if he could get Ben Nordell into the game.
“Three goals (down), with two minutes left, I was sweating,” Hibson said.
But when M-A’s Cooper Gran scored on a power play with just over a minute left, Hibson sent Ben Nordell in, much to the surprise of the rest of the team.
“Some of their jaws dropped a little,” Hibson said.
But in the end, it was all hugs and high-fives for Ben Nordell and his team.
M-A was led by Zach de Haaff, who scored four times and assisted on a fifth. Gran added a hat trick and a pair of helpers, Elias Nasr scored twice, while Jake Blohm and Ben Ferrick rounded out the scoring with a goal apiece for the Bears, with Blohm also picking up three assists. The Taylor twins combined to finish with 10 saves in the cage.
It seems only appropriate that Connor Nordell would lead his team offensively as he finished with three goals and two assists — the second of which was the most meaningful. Mihir Carey Sood, Thomas Dachauer, Francisco Hernandez and Blake Williams all scored for the Knights as well. Goalkeeper Julian Baer finished with eight saves.
“The game was meaningless in the standings, but no games are meaningless,” Hibson said. “It just all worked perfectly.”