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Centennial uses big second half to roll past Frontier, into D-III girls water polo quarterfinals

Centennial water polo

Centennial's Bo Worthen prepares to take a shot during Wednesday's Central Section Division III girls water polo match against Frontier at the Kern Aquatics Center.

Centennial girls water polo coach Art Medina wasn’t happy at halftime of his team’s opening-round playoff match on Wednesday afternoon.

The No. 3 seeded Golden Hawks were outscored in the second quarter and found themselves tied with No. 14 Frontier at halftime after what Medina considered a lackluster first 14 minutes of play from his squad.

“In the first half our girls were not as aggressive on defense as they should have been,” Medina said. “They weren’t getting their hands up. They weren’t doing the things they needed to do. They weren’t executing the fundamentals the way they were all year.”

And, as coaches are apt to do, he let them hear about it during the break.

Centennial obviously got the message. The Golden Hawks picked up their intensity and limited the Titans to just one goal in the second half, using a smothering defense to take control of the match en route to a 16-6 victory at the Kern Aquatic Complex.

“During the half, I reminded them of that,” Medina said. “I reminded them to play like the champions that they are. Get those hands up, play that aggressive defense. They came back that second half and executed exactly the way they had been doing all year long. And that’s why we got the win.”

With the win, Centennial (12-3) advances to Saturday's Central Section Division III quarterfinals where it will host the winner of Wednesday’s late match between No. 6 Kingsburg and No. 11 San Luis Obispo.

“I don’t know (who we're playing yet), but I can tell you that it will be an out-of-town team, and it will definitely be a real challenge for us,” Medina said. “Whoever it is. Because the teams from out of town are teams that have had water polo programs for a lot longer than we have, they have teams that have played together for a lot longer. A lot of them have girls that have played in club year-round for many years now. So we’re really going to have to step up to the challenge and I’m going to have to figure out a way to mitigate that experience.”

Tied 5-5 at the intermission, the Golden Hawks outscored Frontier 5-1 in the third period, and then added six more goals in the final quarter to pull away for an easy victory.

Charlotte Champlin led the way with a game-high seven goals, including three straight in the final 2:41 to close out the match.

Champlin scored off an entry pass from Alexis Jensen a minute into the second half to give her team the lead for good, and then delivered an assist to Devany Vargas to make it 7-5 just 30 seconds later.

Ellie Urmston responded with a goal for the Titans (11-9) to trim the lead to one, but Frontier was held scoreless for the final 11:27 of the match. Urmston finished with two goals, sharing team-high honors with Katherine Serdinsky and Mikayla Dudley.

Jensen lofted the ball into the net on Centennial’s next possession, the start of nine straight goals to close out the match. Champlin followed with a goal to beat the shot clock and Bo Worthen scored an uncontested goal to make it 10-6 with 53 seconds left in the third quarter.

“Honestly, I think it was them being in the playoffs for the first time ever,” said Medina of his team’s poor first half. “The whole nerves … they had to settle themselves down. They were a little hyped up and they weren’t playing their usual smooth, aggressive defensive game that they’re used to playing. And, they had to take that breath, they had to step back, they had to get those nerves worked out, and again be reminded of how they can play. And then they came back and played the way they’ve played all year long in every single game.”

Rhyan Atkin had three of her four goals in the first half for the Golden Hawks, which led 1-0 following a defensive battle in the first quarter.

Centennial’s lead grew to 3-0 before Frontier began to catch fire. The Titans scored five of the next six goals when Urmston took a pass from Charley Nunley and scored to give her team a short-lived 5-4 lead with 10 seconds left in the opening quarter.

"In the first half, all of our girls played really incredibly for each other,” Frontier coach Mitchell Woolstenholne said. “They were working very hard on defense and willing to share the ball, and share the opportunities. But we got into a little bit of foul trouble throughout that I think slowed us down a little, and obviously attrition throughout the game.”

Atkin evened things up when she took a pass, turned and fired the ball off Hope Reis’ hand to tie the game at 5-5 at the second quarter buzzer.

“I’m a big believer in defense,” Medina said. “If we can work that defense hard and be able to shut that other team down from getting those shots, then we have the opportunity to play even better on offense and take advantage of the open opportunities that are given to us.”

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