Annabelle Magdaleno — a senior water polo player at Clovis West High School — reached back and fired the ball in one of the biggest games of the Eagles’ current season.
The score against Clovis High School was 7-7, and the game had gone into overtime. For almost a decade, the two schools have battled for water polo supremacy in the San Joaquin Valley.
Magdaleno was so focused that she didn’t think about taking the shot. “I just did it,” she said.
At first, Magdaleno thought the Clovis High goalie had blocked the shot. “Then I saw it went into the back of the goal and I looked around at my teammates and saw all their happy faces. It was the best feeling in the world,” she said.
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Clovis West won the game 8-7 on Oct. 11, clearing one hurdle in a season of success for the Eagles. They were 14-7 overall as of Oct. 19, with a 7-0 record in the Tri-River Athletic Conference.
The Eagles’ TRAC season ends on Nov. 2 with a rematch against Clovis High at the Cougars’ pool. Central Section playoffs will follow.
For the last seven years, either Clovis West or Clovis has won the Central Section Division 1 championship. The Eagles won in three of those seven years — their last title coming in 2014.
Head Coach Scott Torosian — in his 13th year with the Eagles – said of Clovis West’s long run of excellence: “I give all the credit to the girls. We get girls in this program who want to work hard, do the right things, work hard in the off season and believe in our system. The seniors pass that down to the freshmen.”
Torosian also credits Steve Baxter, the first coach of girls water polo at Clovis West, with establishing a strong foundation for today’s program.
But with success comes expectations, and pressure can follow close behind.
Torosian said he tries to take “the brunt of the pressure” off the girls, and his coaching philosophy goes beyond mapping out plays.
“X’s and O’s are definitely important, but I think building a relationship with the players is just as important,” Torosian said. “I almost think of myself as a big brother to all of them.”
He tries to be protective, caring or demanding, depending on the situation. “Every now and then, it is tough love. But they know it’s because I want them to be the best water polo players they can possibly be. But at the same time, if they need someone to talk to, the door is open. Let’s talk about it and see if we can get it figured out.”
Togetherness is the strength of the 2016 team.
“They don’t really get on each other when someone makes a mistake. They try to build each other up,” Torosian said.
Water polo programs in lower grades contribute to the Eagles’ success. Torosian oversees camps in elementary schools to build interest in the sport, and water polo teams at Kastner Intermediate School also are important. “The girls from Kastner come up here and are ready to play,” he said.
Each fall, Clovis West schedules tough opponents from around the state to prepare for competition in the TRAC and in the playoffs. “We have one of the toughest schedules around,” Torosian said. “That’s been one of my philosophies. We might take our lumps, but it makes us better in the long run.”
On Oct. 15, for example, the Eagles took on Sacred Heart Preparatory from Atherton and Campolindo High School from Moraga, both powers in water polo. Clovis West beat Campolindo 10-9 and lost to Sacred Heart 9-6.
On Oct. 21-22, Clovis West was scheduled to participate in a tournament hosted by Sacred Heart Prep and featuring the top 16 teams in Northern California.
The annual games against Clovis High remain among the most anticipated on the Eagles’ schedule. The Oct. 11 game ranked as “one of the better ones” in the rivalry, Torosian said: “It was a battle all the way through.”
Clovis West went into the fourth quarter with a lead, but Clovis was “relentless” and tied the game with about 30 seconds to go in regulation, Torosian said. “I give Clovis a lot of credit. They fought back to get into the game.”
After Magdaleno scored the go-ahead goal early in overtime, the Eagles’ defense sealed the victory.
Torosian’s understanding of the rivalry goes back to his high school days.
He played water polo for four years at Clovis High (Class of 1998) before attending the University of Redlands, where he played for another four years. Torosian teaches social science at Clovis West in addition to coaching.
Magdaleno said the rivalry with Clovis High produces a feeling she’s never experienced before.
“Just knowing it goes back so far definitely gives us a sense of responsibility to try our hardest every year. We know that so many families have gone through both programs and that both teams train so hard,” she said.
Magdaleno celebrated her game-winning goal and the victory over Clovis High by going home to sleep.
But she’s definitely awake to the possibilities in the Nov. 2 rematch. “It’s going to be a great game,” she said. “Both teams are great, and we’re both going to put everything we have into it. I can’t wait.”
Clovis West players:
Nina Alvarado, junior
Ally Clague, senior
Lauren Cotton, sophomore
Hannah Duggins, senior
Lindsay Lambourne, senior
Maddie Loggins, senior
Emily Mayer, sophomore
Annabelle Magdaleno, senior
Marina Morales, senior
Lisa Moreno, junior
Abby Samansky, sophomore
Caitlyn Snyder, junior
Jade Standing, senior
Emily Thomas, senior
Assistant coaches: Matt Brooks and Derek Kisling