The Lakeridge boys water polo team and their coaches had good reason to smile on Saturday, Nov. 16, after beating Newberg 14-6 to win their first-ever Class 6A state championship at Osborn Aquatic Center in Corvallis. PMG PHOTO: Miles Vance.
Never in their wildest dreams.
The Lakeridge boys water polo team had looked forward to winning its first state championship for a very, very long time.
They first dreamed of it three years ago when they reached the Class 6A state tournament and finished third.
It was definitely at the forefront of the Pacers’ minds in 2017-18, when they advanced to the state championship game twice before falling short each time against perennial power Newberg.
And winning the state title was Lakeridge’s unequivocal goal again this year.
But never, not even in their wildest dreams, did the Pacers think it would be this good.
Top-seeded Lakeridge finally claimed that long-sought first state championship by routing No. 2 Newberg 14-6 on Saturday, Nov. 16, at Osborn Aquatic Center in Corvallis.
To suggest that Lakeridge’s players were thrilled with the result would qualify as a massive understatement.
“I feel a whole mix of emotions — my chest was knotted up like a black hole for that entire game,” said Lakeridge senior goalie Mitchell Parker, who made 11 saves in the contest. “But even more than that, I just feel extremely overjoyed that all the hard work I’ve put in paid off. It feels like it all came together for this moment.”
“I knew right from the get-go that we were going to come out and win this game,” said Lakeridge senior Thomas Gooding, who scored the first goal of the game just 21 second into the finale. “When I hit that first shot, I realized this was our game to win and I knew it was just a matter of time until we pulled away.”
“It’s more than what we could have imagined it would have been,” said Lakeridge senior Brody Veater, who led all scorers with seven goals on Saturday. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for us, the first Lakeridge team to ever win the state title. It’s insane. It’s hard to fathom, really.”
“I feel great. It was a good game,” added Lakeridge senior Yeldar Daniyarbekov, a foreign exchange student from Kazakhstan. “I am thanking my brothers, my companions for being with me. We got it together.”
After splitting their two regular-season games with the talented Tigers — Newberg won 9-8 at Lake Oswego School District Pool on Oct. 2, while Lakeridge topped the Tigers 9-8 in Newberg on Oct. 21 — Lakeridge and everyone else expected another knockdown, drag-out battle like the two that preceded it.
The fact that the Pacers took control with a 6-0 edge in the game’s middle two quarters and won going away was more than even they had hoped for or expected.
“Honestly, I did not imagine it to be this much of a difference in the score, but I’m super proud of all my teammates, all the seniors who have come through this journey with me,” Veater said.
“(The Tigers) were incredible. We were all nervous coming into this thing, but we knew if we played our game and we kept control that we could pull through and that’s what we did today,” Parker said.
With their win over Newberg and their 19-8 semifinal victory over Summit on Friday, Nov. 15 — the team’s 12th and 13th straight — the Three Rivers League co-champion Pacers finished their 2019 season with a 24-1 overall record.
TRL co-champion Newberg, meanwhile, saw its six-game winning streak snapped and ended its season at 25-4.
While the final result wasn’t particularly close, the Tigers matched the Pacers almost goal-for-goal in the first quarter. The two teams traded goals early on, with Gooding and Veater scoring for Lakeridge, while Nathan Waldal and Ty Patterson answered for Newberg, tying the game at 2-2 with 3 minutes, 25 seconds left in the first quarter.
Veater then scored twice in 42 seconds late in the period before Waldal’s goal with 58 seconds to go kept the Pacer lead at just 4-3.
But the Pacer defense took over in the second and third quarters — they shut Newberg out for 15:53, a stretch that lasted until 55 seconds into the fourth period — and gave the offense time to build its lead.
In the second quarter — a period that featured three unanswered Lakeridge goals — Veater hit twice in a row (his second score on a penalty shot) and Daniyarbekov connected off a pass from junior Torin Ferguson to boost the Pacer lead to 7-3 at halftime.
Lakeridge then duplicated that effort in the third quarter, shutting out the Tigers again and scoring three times on its end to push the Pacer lead to 10-3. Veater got the first of those on a left-handed shot he skipped past Newberg goalie Nick Helikson, Daniyarbekov took a pass from junior Anthony Wang and hit from the left side, and Wang added the third goal of the period from short range off an assist from Gooding with 1:13 to go in the quarter.
The Tigers broke their long scoreless streak when Waldal converted a penalty shot 55 seconds into the fourth quarter, but Lakeridge made sure Newberg got no closer. The Pacers responded with a four-goal stretch that included: a 10-yard score by Veater; a Ferguson goal off a pass from sophomore Collin Parker; a score after Daniyarbekov stole the ball from Helikson and hit from point-blank range following a Ferguson shot; and finally, a spinning, backhanded shot by Daniyarbekov to the right corner of the Newberg goal for a 14-5 lead with just 1:17 left to play.
Newberg’s final score came from Alex Touzeau with 1:05 to play.
As the clock wound down, the Pacers raised their arms in triumph, hugged each other in the pool, then threw head coach Morgan Rauch and her assistants into the water in celebration.
After the game, the Pacers talked about the team aspect that led to their championship.
“Everyone on the team was contributing, firing on all cylinders,” Gooding said. “Yeldar, in this game, played much better than he did in the previous ones. Torin was a force bringing people in and Brody played out of his mind — I’m real proud of him.”
“We won it as a team,” Veater said. “We came into this game thinking we had nothing to lose. Newberg was five-time defending champions and we got second last two years so it was either we get second again or we take it all home.”
“I am nothing without my team and I am grateful for all the people here, all the support here from the parents and my team,” Daniyarbekov added.
In addition to Veater’s seven goals, Daniyarbekov added four, and Ferguson, Wang and Gooding had one each. For Newberg, Waldal led the Tigers with four scores while Helikson made 17 saves.