Warriors defeat defending water polo champions in consecutive games

Fallbrook High’s Tanner Curnow fires in a goal during the Helix Tournament. Curnow scored a total of 27 goals in the Warriors’ five tournament games at Santana High School. Robert Curnow photos

Fallbrook High School’s boys water polo team defeated two defending CIF San Diego Section champions in consecutive games.

The Warriors closed out the Sept. 7-9 Helix Tournament with a 17-4 victory over 2016 Division II champion Valley Center and then won an 11-10 non-league game Sept. 12 against defending Division I champion San Marcos.

“We’re doing pretty good,” said Fallbrook coach Bill Richardson.

Poway hosted Fallbrook in an Aug. 29 match which ended as a 20-6 Titans victory. “They beat us pretty good,” Richardson said.

All five of Fallbrook’s Helix Tournament games were at the Santana High School pool. Tournament play began Sept. 7 and in Fallbrook’s only contest that day Del Norte took a 15-12 victory over the Warriors.

“I felt like we had a good chance of winning the game,” Richardson said. “We just weren’t able to pull it out.”

The Warriors recovered with Sept. 8 wins over Rancho Buena Vista and Bonita Vista. “We were definitely a stronger team both games,” Richardson said.

The margin of victory over Rancho Buena Vista was 16-1. Ten different Fallbrook players scored in the game, nine different Warriors accounted for a total of 12 steals, and Gage Oppenborn contributed a field block.

Richardson noted that defensive success leads to fast breaks and counterattacks.

“That’s our primary offense this year, so it’s all intertwined,” Richardson said. “Our defense starts our offense.”

The Warriors can also wear down opponents over the course of a 28-minute game. “We have a lot of team speed this year, a really deep team, so we can platoon a little more,” Richardson said.

Fallbrook outscored Bonita Vista by an 18-7 margin. “They were able to score more goals,” Richardson said.

Seven different Fallbrook players scored against the Barons. Tanner Curnow led Fallbrook with six goals while Chase Norfolk guided four shots into the net.

“We basically outswam, outhustled the other team,” said Richardson. “That was the big difference.”

Norfolk led the team with five goals in Fallbrook’s 18-4 victory over Mount Carmel. Curnow and Anthony Vazzana added four goals apiece.

Fallbrook had 14 steals by nine different players against Mount Carmel. “We had a lot of steals,” Richardson said.

The Sundevils peppered Fallbrook goalkeeper Jacob Cain with shots, and Cain made 12 saves.

The Warriors’ second Sept. 9 game was the second of the year between Fallbrook and Valley Center. The Aug. 24-26 RB Invite tournament included an Aug. 25 match at the Rancho Bernardo High School pool which went into sudden-death overtime before Fallbrook won the fifth-period sprint and then scored for an 11-10 victory.

“I think our growth from the first game of the year to the second game was pretty big,” Richardson said.

Although the Warriors prepared for the rematch against the Jaguars, Valley Center was not able to alter Fallbrook’s control of the ball so few adjustments were required during play.

“We played our game,” said Richardson. “We didn’t have to change anything.”

Valley Center not only won last year’s CIF Division II championship but also the 2016 Valley League championship; the Jaguars’ 16-10 victory over Fallbrook at Adams Community Park Pool in Valley Center accounted for the Warriors’ only league loss of the season. The two teams will meet this year for Valley League play Oct. 18 in Fallbrook and the teams may also meet that week in the San Diego Open tournament. Valley Center has been moved up to Division I for CIF playoff purposes, so the Warriors and Jaguars could also meet in the post-season.

The Warriors finished fifth among the 16 teams in the tournament.

“It was a great tournament for us,” said Richardson. “I believe if we could have gotten past that first game we could have challenged for the top three.”

Fallbrook scored 81 goals and allowed 31 during the five tournament games.

“Good numbers,” Richardson said.

San Marcos plays its home games at the Palomar College pool, and the victory over the Knights gave Fallbrook wins in consecutive games over 2016 CIF champions.

“To get past both of them I think is a good sign,” Richardson said. “Teams change from year to year and I’m hoping that the trend for us is that this is going to be an up year.”

Fallbrook’s style of play is more conducive to larger pools than to Brook Street Pool in Oceanside, where the Warriors defeated El Camino in a 9-7 match Sept. 14. “That kind of takes away from the fast break,” Richardson said. “It’s just not conducive to our game.”

The Warriors had a 2-0 lead after one period but the score was 4-4 at halftime.

“It felt like – at least for the first half – we were pretty flat,” said Richardson, adding that the Warriors “played well enough to win.”

“It was a back and forth game,” said Richardson. “We weren’t shooting particularly well,”

The victory over El Camino gave Fallbrook a 9-4 season record, but Fallbrook entered league competition with a 9-6 mark after non-league losses Sept. 19 at Rancho Bernardo and Sept. 21 at Del Norte. Rancho Bernardo had also previously defeated Fallbrook, which opened its season Aug. 24 with a 9-3 loss to the Broncos in their pool during the RB Invite.

The Sept. 19 match was tied at three goals apiece after one quarter, but the halftime score was 6-3 in the Broncos’ favor. “We made a couple of mistakes in the second period,” Richardson said.

Rancho Bernardo held a 12-3 advantage after three quarters. “We just kind of unraveled,” Richardson said.

The final score was 14-4.

Del Norte’s victory Sept. 21 was by a 10-8 margin. The Warriors held a 4-1 lead and had a five-meter penalty shot which threatened to create a 5-1 score, but Fallbrook missed that shot and the Nighthawks capitalized for a counterattack goal. Fallbrook then turned the ball over and Del Norte scored again for a 4-3 score which was the margin when the halftime buzzer sounded. “We played well with them in the beginning,” Richardson said.

Fallbrook had a total of 11 wins for the entire 2016 season. “We should better that,” Richardson said.

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