When Cathy Neushul received a text message last Saturday evening that Dos Pueblos High trailed Newport Harbor 7-2 in the first half of the CIF Division I girls’ water polo championship game, she smiled. “It couldn’t have been a better scenario,” said the mother of DP standouts Kiley and Jamie Neushul. “I had no doubt they would win.”
No doubt? The Chargers had never faced such a deficit during a season of 30 wins and no losses. But Cathy Neushul, an assistant coach of the UCSB women’s team, had insight into their psychology. She knew that the one thing that could derail the Chargers was over-confidence, and that would be no problem when they fell five goals behind. Instead, it became Newport Harbor’s problem, and the Sailors did not recognize the danger when Kiley’s goal at the end of the second quarter made the score 7-3.
“The other team was celebrating at halftime,” said Jamie, a precocious first-year player for the Chargers. She confessed that “it was scary for me—I haven’t been in a CIF championship before,” and the standing-room-only crowd in Orange County was hostile to the girls from Goleta. But most of Jamie’s teammates, including her sister, a junior, had been there before and won two previous CIF titles.
“We were freaking out a little when we were down by five,” senior goalkeeper Sami Hill said. “At the beginning of the third quarter, we were determined to play our hardest and play great defense. We worked as a team in the second half.” And then the goals started to come. “When it was 7-5, I thought, ‘We can do this,’” Hill said.
By the time Cathy Neushul arrived at the pool—she had to coach the UCSB team in a late game in the UC Irvine Invitational—Dos Pueblos and Newport Harbor were tied, 7-7. “Then I saw my older daughter pass it to my younger daughter for a goal,” she said. Jamie buried a shot that put the Chargers ahead, 8-7, with a minute and a half to play, and that’s how it ended. A perfect season—31-0—a feat accomplished only once before by a CIF Division I girls team.
“It was a great way to end my senior year,” said Hill, who will go on to play at UCLA. She said the second half, when the Chargers shut out Newport Harbor, will go down as a highlight of her career—along with the goal she scored, flinging the ball into the cage at the opposite end of the pool, in the semifinal game. The Chargers held off Los Alamitos in that one, 9-8.
“It was an amazing year,” Hill said. “I’m still completely shocked we came back and won the last game.” That’s what happens when, as the cliché goes, a team plays to win, rather than not to lose.
LUNCHEON BITES: Coach Danelle Little and the DP water polo champions will be fêted at Monday’s (Mar. 8) Santa Barbara Athletic Round Table luncheon. It starts at noon at Harry’s Plaza Café and is open to the public. This week’s luncheon had some tasty comments:
• “It’s always fun to beat up on some smart kids.” —UCSB assistant volleyball coach Lee Nelson, on the Gauchos’ sweep of Harvard.
• “We have some huge fins to fill.” —Swim coach Mark Walsh of Santa Barbara High, which graduated most of his team.
• “I recruit so hard, and you get them coming out of the grandstand.” —What UCSB’s Gregg Wilson hears from rival coaches about Gaucho swimmer Anne Marie May, who came out of the stands after a meet and said she wanted to tryout. The senior is a two-time All-American.
• “How cool is it that our local scene is doing so well?” —Dos Pueblos boys soccer coach Tovi Eliasen, whose Chargers will face the Santa Barbara Dons in the CIF Division II championship game at 7 p.m. Friday at UCSB’s Harder Stadium.
EVENING WITH A LEGEND: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a notoriously private person, but he really opened up at last month’s Endowment for Youth Committee fund-raiser. Remember the grilling Abdul-Jabbar, the world’s tallest airline pilot, received from a boy named Joey in the 1980 movie Airplane!? (He responded: “Listen, kid! … I’m out there busting my buns every night.”) In real life, Abdul-Jabbar showed his passion while addressing more serious issues during an hour of thoughtful questioning by UCSB Vice Chancellor Michael Young. They discussed history, religion and politics in the context of Black History Month. “Black Americans have contributed greatly to this county,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who has authored several books since concluding his basketball career. The thrust of his message was that minority youths should prepare to make their own contributions. No longer can they make the excuse: “We don’t need to study because we can’t achieve.” In the wake of Barack Obama’s election to the presidency, Abdul-Jabbar declared, “That notion is dead.”