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Orange Lutheran girls water polo rallies past Foothill for CIF-SS Open Division title

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IRVINE — An epic comeback for a program that has bounced back in a major way.

Orange Lutheran’s girls water polo team, led by first-year coach and Olympian Brenda Villa, rallied from a four-goal deficit to storm past top-seeded Foothill 11-8 in the CIF-SS Open Division final Saturday.

In front of a packed crowd at Woollett Aquatics Center, the Knights (24-5) scored the first four goals and didn’t allow a goal until  nearly the middle of the second period. But the No. 2 Lancers (25-2), who lost their coach last season amid issues with red cards, erupted for five goals in the third period and four more in the final frame to claim their first section title since 2016.

Orange Lutheran won going away with its extra-man attack, defense and, most of all, the composure that Villa preached through the season.

“Our theme this year was composure, so I just reminded the girls that there was still a lot of water polo to be played and that our game is a game of flow,” said Villa, a four-time Olympian who earned her first title as a head coach.

“I’m one of those who process it later. I still don’t believe it. I think later tonight, I’ll be, ‘Oh, my goodness, we actually did it.’ It’s a program that has gone through a lot, so this is the cherry on top.”

Orange Lutheran didn’t take its first lead until 2:14 left in the third period as sophomore attacker Michelle Urkov scored a unique extra-man goal for a 6-5 lead. Ukrov put away a counterattack after a field block by Allison Cohen and an exclusion in the backcourt against Foothill.

Foothill immediately reinserted USC-bound Rachel Gazzaniga, who had been out with two fouls since 1:45 left in the second period, and tied the score 7-7 going into the fourth. Junior attacker Gabriella Graniello (three goals) scored on a close-range shot from the wing to tie the score.

But Cohen, a freshman, netted the go-ahead goal on an outside shot with 5:34 left in the fourth. Cohen also assisted an extra-man strike by Sofia Umeda just 30 seconds later as the Lancers opened a 9-7 lead.

Cohen and Umeda each finished with three goals while Cohen added five assists.

Orange Lutheran converted six consecutive chances with the extra attack to finish 6 of 9. The Lancers closed the title by forcing seven turnovers in the final seven minutes. Umeda, a junior, made a steal with about 1:30 left that led the Lancers to start burning clock.

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