Gunn senior co-captains Isobel Taylor and Cooper McKenna will savor the experience of winning the Central Coast Section Division I girls water polo tournament but that may not be the highlight of their high school water polo careers.
"We overcame a lot to be here," Taylor said after the Titans' 13-8 victory over Santa Clara on Saturday at Independence High in San Jose gave her school the first CCS girls water polo title in its history. "It's a good feeling, especially being a senior. We'd always finish second to Los Gatos. I just wish we had a chance to show more."
Gunn (20-6) showed quite a bit, overcoming a series of injuries and illnesses that left the team short-handed on several occasions. The Titans were still in position to win a Santa Clara Valley Athletic League title before being assigned the No. 1 seed in Division I.
Had the Titans won the SCVAL title, they would most certainly have been seeded into the Open Division. Although Gunn and Los Gatos tied for the regular season title, the Wildcats were awarded the championship on a tiebreaker.
"I thought we might be seeded in the Open Division," Taylor said. "But we were seeded in Division I and we came out and showed what we could do. We were a young team but we came a long way."
Gunn won its three CCS games by a combined 40-17 margin. The Bruins (24-2) were the SCVAL El Camino Division champions but they beat Los Altos to reach the final, something no one would have guessed.
Santa Clara senior 2-meter Mariah Walker is a legitimate Division I player and Gunn coach Chris Ford was well aware of her.
"No one expected Los Altos to lose," Ford said. "That woke up a lot of teams. I've seen Mariah play and I know what she can do. She was going to get hers no matter what we did, so I wanted to make sure we shut down everybody else."
The strategy worked. Walker scored six goals, the rest of the team scored twice.
Ford, in his first year at Gunn, told the team at the beginning of the season the goal that "the only we ant to do is play in the last game, because that will mean we're playing for something. We had some in juries and illnesses toward the end but we kept reminding them of the goal. Before the game, I told them it was time to finish the job."
There's no such thing as a perfect seeding and somebody was going top feel cheated. The Titans were 2-2 against teams in the Open Division while Mitty, who got the eighth seed, went 0-7.
Gunn let others try and figure out the what-ifs of the system and just went about playing the schedule it was handed.
"It's nice to win and I'm grateful we won," McKenna said. "But the biggest thing is the relationships I had with the team. In the long run I'll remember the little moments that made us a team."
"Being on this team was a great experience," she said. "It was like a family. It was a great way to start my freshman year and meeting these guys. It was a blast being around these guys."
Santa Clara scored the game's first two goals but Gunn scored four straight to take the lead for good. Kenza Ashworth scored both the tying goal and go-ahead goal. She scored four total and recorded a pair of steals.
The Titans were up 4-3 at halftime and then bolted out of the gates with five unanswered goals in the third period.
Junior Kate Mallery led the Titans with six goals. McKenna added three goals and three assists. Siham Arsalane had three assists and a steal. Molly Wilkinson added a pair of assists.