Downey girls water polo eyes first conference championship

jcortez@modbee.comOctober 15, 2013 

    alternate text Joe Cortez
    Title: Prep sports writer
    Coverage areas: High school sports
    Bio: Joe started at The Bee in 2000, where he worked on the Sports and Features desks. He was named prep editor in July, 2013. Joe attended Merced High and Merced College, and was the lead high school sports reporter at the Merced Sun-Star beginning in 1990. His favorite athletes are Babe Ruth, Joe Namath and Walt Frazier.
    Recent stories written by Joe
    On Twitter: @ModBeePreps

— It's been a pretty good week for the Downey High School water polo program.

And it has a chance to get even better.

Downey's girls team defeated rival Modesto 14-6 on Tuesday to build a cozy two-game lead over the Panthers. For all intents and purposes, the Modesto Metro Conference race is over. And that means for the first time in Downey's 62-year history, it will hoist a girls water polo championship banner.

Downey's boys beat Modesto 16-3 to improve to 8-0. The Knights can mirror the girls team on Thursday and all but clinch their first title in school history when they travel across town to take on three-time reigning MMC champion Johansen (7-1). The match is expected to start at about 4:15 p.m.

"I hope the team responds well to the challenge of this game," said Downey boys coach Tim Vesey, whose team beat Johansen 8-7 on Sept. 24 at Downey High. "I don't know. We'll see. It should be a close game. It was the last time."

The significance of Thursday's match isn't lost on Downey's players.

"Ever since I've been in high school, Johansen has been the MMC champ or the co-champ," said Knights senior Sam Ciccarelli. "It's cool to know that during my senior year we're contending with them."

Downey's task is clear: Contain high-scoring Grant Plunkett and you pretty much contain the Vikings.

"We're just going to try to shut him down," said senior hole-set Jake Schanen. "We were able to hold him to three goals last time."

A win for the Downey boys would cap a wonderful six-month stretch for the aquatics program.

"We won the MMC swimming title for the first time last (April)," said senior Kyle Swisegood. "If we could take the polo title, too ... what more could you ask for?"

What more? How about a girls water polo title to boot?

"It's great to know that our season — 2013 — will hang on a banner in our gym," said senior Carly Wickman. "It's just amazing to know that I was a part of it and helped make it happen."

Wickman was part of a frosh-soph team that went undefeated three seasons ago, setting the stage for the 2013 team.

"We had a pretty good idea back then that we could be a good team on the varsity level," said senior Lindsay Purdom. "We knew we would only get stronger and better. This is sort of like Frosh-Soph 2.0."

The Knights are now two games up with four to play. You'd have to try pretty hard to let a lead like that slip away. Still ...

"We can see the finish line and we can see the MMC title," said junior Tarah Salazar, who led all scorers with six goals against Modesto. "We wouldn't do anything to throw it away."

That's not something that really concerns coach Kendall Graham.

"Their focus is very high and very strong, said Graham. "They have goals that are very important to them."

And, according to senior Hallee Callizo, the Knights aren't satisfied with just a league title.

"We're looking forward to the playoffs," said Callizo, who, along with Wickman and Jenna Webb, scored two goals against the Panthers. "Can we keep moving forward or are we going to be like most every other team in our league who gets shot down in the first round?"

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