GIRLS WATER POLO PREVIEW: Lady Lancers shoot for a CIF title as well as securing their sixth Freeway League title

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Asaph Li

Utility player senior Sofia Smith prepares to shoot the ball during a Tuesday, Jan. 17, practice at the Sunny Hills’ aquatics pool.

Coaches: Keith Nighswonger (head coach), Sergio Durango (assistant coach), Jordan Jaime (assistant coach)

Top Returning Players: Jamie Cho (12), Ariana Choi (12), Brooke Shiohama (12), Sofia Smith (12)

Top Newcomers: Sienna Bertsch (11), Eden Buell (11), Julianna Garcia (11)

Last season: The Lady Lancers won the Freeway League with an 8-0 record for their fifth consecutive year (26-10 overall). Their season ended sooner than they expected after losing the first round of CIF playoffs against Glendora High School.

Outlook: With a team of hard-working upperclassmen and experienced underclassmen, the girls water polo team strives to go beyond just another Freeway League title.

“This particular group has higher goals; they want to do more than just win our league,” Nighswonger said. “They want to win CIF.”

As the team ended its previous season sooner than expected, he said the players put in much effort during their off-season to compensate for their letdown.

“I am very optimistic about this year, and I think we’re gonna have a good season,” Nighswonger said. “I really believe that everybody on our team from top to bottom has put in a tremendous amount of time and done a lot of extra work.”

The head coach said the team has great potential as they are highly capable of learning newer and more difficult skills.

“I think the thing that’s important about our team is that our players, even though they’re young, have really learned the game and communicate well,” Nighswonger said. “You can challenge them with more complex type of plays, offensive and defensive, and they’re able to handle it.”

Heading into her second year and last season, utility player Choi said she is thrilled to see how differently the matches will take shape compared to the previous season.

“I think our team has so much potential, and I am excited to see that play out in our games,” she said. “The only thing different is our players because the team was senior dominant last year, but now younger players are stepping up into roles they were never forced into before, and I hope to see growth in our team as a whole.”

Utility player Shiohama, who’s a 3-year veteran in the program, anticipates a successful season for the girls.

“I think we can get pretty far in CIF this year and possibly win it,” she said. “We are all going into this season with a strong mindset that we can win this year.”

The Lady Lancers have been working on their weaknesses and techniques that will keep them a step ahead of their opponents, such as La Habra, which the team believes to be its toughest competition. 

“We have been working on our transition game; going from offense to defense and from defense to offense, as efficiently as possible,” the head coach said. “For this to work best, we need to be faster than our opponents and constantly [be] on the move.”

In their most recent Freeway League game on Wednesday, Jan. 18, the Lady Lancers beat Troy 17-5, remaining undefeated with a record of 4-0 and an overall of 24-2.

The team will play on the road tonight against Sonora at the Raiders pool at 5 p.m.