The Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division girls’ water polo match between Aragon and Notre Dame-Belmont was more than just a game at the Serra Aquatic Center Wednesday night.
The Dons (3-3) were trying to solidify their third-place standings, hoping to grab one of the division’s three automatic bids to the Central Coast Section playoffs.
The Tigers (1-5), after dominating and capturing the Ocean Division title in 2017, were still in search of their first Bay Division win of the season.
On top of that, players from both teams are well-acquainted with each other as a number of them played for the same BAC club team during the summer.
And just to add a little more spice to the proceedings, it was Senior Night for NDB.
So when Aragon jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead, it appeared the standings would bear out.
But NDB tightened the screws defensively and then dominated in the hole set as the Tigers upset Aragon, 10-6.
“I thought our girls played really well,” said NDB head coach Mike Marques. “They played good team ball.”
The match had even more meaning for NDB junior Hannah Kawar, who transferred from Aragon at the beginning of the season and just became eligible for the Tigers two weeks ago. Kawar came back to haunt her former team, notching a goal and two assists.
“I didn’t know what was going to happen,” said an emotional Kawar. “I’m just so happy.”
But for everything working in the Tigers’ favor, it was the Dons who appeared buoyed by the Senior Night proceedings. Aragon took a 1-0 lead less than a minute into the game when Maria Sell found a driving Aryana Zahabi, who was all alone in the set and fired home a shot.
A little over 30 second later, Aragon scored its second goal on its second shot of the game. Again, with the NDB defense keying on Sell, she found a wide-open Sydney Nash in front of the goal and she, too, buried her shot.
After that, it was all NDB.
The Tigers got on the board with a little over three minutes to play in the opening period and when Michelle Kleytman, the reigning Daily Journal Girls’ Water Polo Player of the Year, scored from the set, setting a trend that saw the Tigers score half their goals from the hole set position — two meters in front of the goal.
Kleytman, who tore up the Ocean Division last season, had a strong game against the Dons, finishing with a match-high five goals.
“We had a team meeting right before (the match) and we didn’t talk about strategy or plays,” Kleytman said, a senior team captain. “I just needed all their minds focused on this game.”
Kleytman’s first goal got NDB on the scoreboard and her second tied the game at 2-all with just over a minute to play in the first period.
Sell responded with the first of her team-high three goals to give the Dons a 3-2 lead, but the Tigers tied it just before the quarter break on a goal from Isa Mack.
NDB took its first lead of the game less than two minutes into the second period when Mack fired home a shot from five meters out to put the Tigers up 4-3. Sell tied the score at 4-all on a 5-meter penalty shot with just under two minutes in the opening half, but Kleytman’s strike with 30 seconds left put the Tigers up 5-4 at halftime.
“We started out really strong, which has been one of our weaknesses,” said Aragon head coach Roxanne Tursi. “We lost a little steam after that.”
It was the first of four unanswered goals for NDB that bridged the second and third periods and gave the Tigers control of the match. Kawar and Kleytman hooked up at the start of the third period off a restart, with Kawar dumping a pass to Kleytman in the set and she finished for a 6-4 NDB lead.
Kawar came back with her own goal in the hole set, taking a pass from Callie Malone and with a big wind up, blasted a shot past the Aragon goaltender for a 7-4 lead. When Mack converted a Parker Daley pass with under three minutes left in the period, the Tigers had doubled up the Dons and led 8-4.
Sell notched her third goal of the game to close to 8-5, but Malone scored her only goal with under a minute to play to give the Tigers a 9-5 lead going into the final seven minutes.
Freshman Ruby Vogel rounded out the scoring for the Dons, scoring off an assist from Grace Simenc, but Aragon would get no closer.
Kawar had a chance to add to her point total, but had a pair of shots bang off the frame of the goal during one sequence. But Kleytman was there to pick up the pieces, putting home an empty-net rebound to close out the scoring for the game.
“It all just came together,” Kleytman said. “I think that was the best we’ve played as a team this year.”