ROCKLIN – The morning commute couldn’t have gone much worse for the Ripon High boys water polo team.
The Indians, playing for a berth in their first Sac-Joaquin Section final, were met with rainy conditions, which in turn, caused the traffic on the way to Whitney High School to back up.
By the time head coach Eric Zador and his barnstorming group of eight water polo players arrived on the pool deck they were a bundle of nerves and frustration.
“The traffic, the rain … it was nerve-wracking,” Zador said. “
Nothing a little water couldn’t fix.
The Indians were anything but nervous in the pool, where they pummeled a 30-win Dixon team 16-6 to reach the Division II championship match.
Zach Scudder scored eight goals, Kole Gonzales had three tallies and an assist and goalie Jacob Thompson stopped five shots for the Indians, who won by a double-digit margin for the second in three postseason matches.
Ripon will play four-time defending champion Rio Americano in the final at Woodcreek High School in Roseville at 11 a.m. on Saturday.
Rio Americano has won 10 overall titles.
“This is huge for us,” Zador said. “It’s a difficult task to run a solid program with eight guys all season long. These guys have had a phenomenal season. This was the game we’ve wanted. We’ve never been to a section final.”
He never dreamed it would happen like this.
The Indians are comprised of two freshmen, two sophomores, two juniors and two seniors. Despite its small roster, Ripon captured the Valley Oak League title and has won 27 of its 30 matches. It has outscored its three playoff opponents 47-14.
On Thursday morning, Ripon proved it could win despite a little adversity.
The Indians overcame a rough commute to Rocklin and then silenced Dixon’s crowd with a quick start.
The Indians led 6-3 after one period and received two goals apiece from Scudder and Gonzales. Daniel Esenwein and freshman Ty Wells also notched goals in the opening frame.
“Dixon had a crowd there and they were pretty upbeat. We didn’t hear them after that. The whole Ponderosa game, they were all fired up and the crowd helped them out a lot,” Zador said referencing Dixon’s quarterfinal win. “That’s what we didn’t want to happen.”
Ripon extended its lead to 9-3 at the intermission, powered by another two goals from Scudder.
The Indians’ defense solidified the win with a shut-down effort in the third period. Ripon outscored the Solano County Athletic Conference champions 4-2 in the period to extend its lead to 13-5.
Zador said that period broke Dixon’s spirits.
“We knew the importance of playing good defense. Our ‘D’ stepped up tremendously and that’s what happened in the third quarter,” Zador added. “It became a pretty easy game after that.”
Wells finished with two goals, two assists, two blocks and a steal. Nathaniel Gagnon and Carson Morrow rounded out the scoring.
Esenwein also had two assists, while Gagnon finished with a team-high 10 steals.
“This was our best game all season, on both ends, offensively and defensively,” Zador said. “It came at the right time … at the right moment.”