As this year's Metea Valley girls water polo team gains more experience, the Mustangs may just be a tough team to beat in tight matches.
In Thursday's home battle against visiting Lincoln-Way West, the more experienced Warriors (1-0) pulled out a thrilling 9-8 victory in Aurora. But even in defeat Metea Valley (3-4) showed plenty of heart and came away with threat after threat while trying to draw even down the stretch.
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In the end Lincoln-Way West goalie Brenna Bowers was just too strong late, fighting off a number of close-range Mustangs attacks to hang onto the tight victory. Bowers and fellow senior Gena Tanquilut were the brightest stars for the visitors in the nonconference battle.
"They kept getting possession after possession at the end," Warriors coach Keith Huizinga said of Metea Valley's late charge. "Brenna Bowers comes up big for us a lot, which is awesome. She's a senior and we need that from her."
Junior Leah Hummel had another big game for the Mustangs, tallying 4 goals, including one in the waning seconds of the third quarter that tied the match at 8-8. Hummel also set up teammate Brittney Effner with a pair of chances late that could have tied the match if not for stops from Bowers, who finished the night with 15 saves for Lincoln-Way West.
"I think we definitely had the opportunities. We didn't act on them exactly the way we would have liked to, but they were definitely there so I am proud of us for getting those opportunities," said Hummel, one of just two varsity regulars back from last season for Metea Valley. "We'll learn a lot from this and have a lot to practice on now. Hopefully, when we play the same level of teams we'll be able to pull out a win."
The Warriors scored on a breakaway on their first possession and later quickly turned a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 lead with three transition scores. But the Mustangs defense tightened after that and, after trailing 5-4 at the half, the score remained tight throughout the final two quarters of play. Tanquilut, however, tallied her sixth goal of the night and what proved to be the game-winner with less than four minutes left to play.
"We fought hard and we've really come a long way," first-year Metea Valley coach Wyatt Jansen said. "To be able to compete with a team like this with such a young team … we graduated something like 10 seniors last year. That being said, they're coming along pretty fast."
Marcella Cerra scored twice for the Mustangs, while Abbie Chamberlain and Cassidy Frank added goals and Effner a pair of assists. Goalie Jocelyn Lent made 10 saves for the Mustangs, including four in the fourth quarter to keep her team's comeback hopes alive until the very end.
In the final minute alone Bowers stopped shots from Effner and Grace Rathje, while a third Mustangs attempt went just wide of the goal.