Cardinal Newman Captures First VVAL Title in 4 years
The Cardinal Newman Men's Water Polo team captured their first Vine Valley Athletic League banner since 2019 with their huge win over Vintage Thursday. The Cardinals beat the defending VVAL Champion Crushers 11-6 with another fantastic defensive performance. The Cardinals came in and locked the Crushers down, shutting Vintage out in the first quarter. The Cardinals scored a couple in the 1st to lead 2-0 after 1. The Cardinals stayed strong on defense and traded goals with the Crushers to lead at half, 4-2. The regular season matchups between the Cardinals and Crushers had been nail-biters, both resulting in close Cardinal Newman wins. The Cardinals beat the Crushers in Napa on September 5th in a fantastic game, 11-9. Vintage brought it a few weeks later, but the Cardinals stayed strong, edging out a close but crucial 13-12 win at Santa Rosa Junior College.
Heading into the second, everyone thought it would be another nail-biter, but the Cardinals came out hot on both sides of the ball with Mathias McCarthy, Brody Hansel and Kai Slater getting steals and turning those steals into counter attack goals. The Cardinals were able to score 6 3rd Quarter goals with a beautifully flowing transition from defense to offense, showing their great speed and skill in the pool. The Crushers fought hard into the 4th, but the Cardinals stayed strong on defense, holding Vintage to just 1 4th Quarter goal and running the clock out to win their first title in 4 years. Brody Hansel lead the team with 7 goals but also added 2 steals, 5 penalties earned and a field block. Mathias McCarthy had a big game with 2 goals, 3 assists, 4 steals and a field block. His brother Tomas added 2 steals and was great at the top, helping Newman set up their offense and move the ball around fast. Assistant Coach Alicia Hansel, who has a great deal of experience in not only coaching but playing the sport at a very high level in college at Cal, said this in her postgame report to Dave Cox of YSN365, "The McCarthy brothers partnered to absolutely silence the Vintage Offense. Pulling Tomas McCarthy from his normal post at center to play defender he demonstrated his game IQ. Matthias McCarthy was unstoppable swimming from 2M-2M absolutely stomping out the Crushers attempts to bring a counter attack."
A pivotal player for the Cardinals was Kai Slater. He was the primary sprinter for Newman and won 2 sprints that were huge in establishing Newman's offensive attack and control on the game. Slater was also big on defense with 4 steals and 3 field blocks on the perimeter, locking down Vintage's 4-5 side. Slater's defense helped set up big counter attacking opportunities for Newman and Slater was able to assist on one and score on another. Slater totalled 2 goals and 1 assist on the night. He talked a lot about the work he and his teammates have done this year and the program they are helping build, “This season is something Newman hasn’t seen from its water polo program in years and it’s all come from hard work and determination given by the coaches, players and families. 2023 VVAL Champs is just the beginning to the start of a continuously great program at Cardinal Newman.”
Freshman goalie Mason Ballard was once again huge for the Cardinals, picking 13 saves, 9 of which were in the 1st Half. Ballard's saves in the first half were incredible and helped discourage the Vintage offensive attack, as after the 1st Quarter, Vintage's players were mentioning to their coach that even if they got a great opportunity, Mason was making the stop. As a result of this and the great Newman defense, Vintage rarely ever had a fantastic look in the field and could not get their attack off the ground. Ballard had great awareness and was able to not only quash the Crusher attack with those 13 saves, but was able to rack up 2 steals. He was also a threat on offense, too, with efficient throws out from the cage to start a Newman counter. He finished the night with 3 assists. After the victory, Mason was excited about the team's effort, "The boys showed up and we got the dub."
The Cardinals offense was not only affective, but with the way they spread the ball, Vintage was left with too many problems to solve. A big thing the Crushers did early was triple team the center, allowing for open looks on the perimeter that lead to early goals for the Cardinals. The Crushers stayed with it, but Brody Hansel and Mathias McCarthy were able to trade spots on the perimeter and in center from play-to-play, making defense a nightmare for the Crushers. Not to mention, the Cardinals also had lethal shooters around the perimeter that were tough for the Crushers to stop with their intense triple team in the center. As a result, Newman just teed up on this defense and paired with success on the counter attack, Newman was able to pull away in the 3rd Quarter and eventually capture the banner.
Coach Alfredo De La Mora led the Cardinals to their first VVAL Pennant in 4 years in his first year as the Newman Head Coach. His Cardinals had the best defense in the VVAL this year, averaging only 8 goals allowed per league game, with the most goals allowed in a league game by the Cardinals being 14, coming twice, once against Ukiah and once against Napa. He worked in practice with the team on refining their spectacular press defense all year and had this to say about his team's terriffic performance Thursday, "The boys played the most composed I have seen them this whole season and it was reflected in the outcome. Looking forward to see what the team does in the postseason." Newman will get their NCS matchup on Sunday, but they are projected to receive a top 8 seed and have a home playoff game in the first round.