The HRV boys water polo team’s quest for a 5A state championship were thwarted in the final nine seconds of an exciting tied-up semifinal game against Summit, when the HRV team was denied the opportunity for a penalty throw by what was proven later to be an erroneous referee decision, said HRV coach Dave Cameron.
The game had been a rough, physical match, with strong defensive playing by both teams. Throughout the game, neither team was able to gain a significant advantage, as the scores crept up slowly and the lead traded hands several times. The score was tied 9-9 at the end of the fourth quarter. HRV sophomore JJ Mears had just wrestled the ball away from a Summit player and the ball was tossed around in the pool, with several players from both teams scrambling for possession, when Summit called for a timeout. The referees stopped the game but did not allow the timeout, and instead conferred at the officials table.
When the game resumed, the referees acknowledged that the timeout was illegal and gave possession to Hood River, but the remaining seconds on the clock ran out without either team scoring. Summit ultimately won the game by one goal 10-9 in overtime and advanced to the state championship finals.
“There was a lot of confusion at the time because it was obvious that the Summit’s timeout was illegal, as they did not have clear possession,” Cameron said. “Even though we were given the ball afterwards, something didn’t feel right about the outcome, because the game is all about momentum, and we lost momentum during a critical moment because of the interruption.”
Lost to Summit, 11-6
Defeated Ashland, 11-2
Lost to Summit, 10-9 (OT)
Lost to Ashland, 8-6
Cameron said a video of the game posted on the HRV water polo facebook page confirms that not only did Summit not have possession, but Mears was in the process of grabbing the ball from open water when the timeout horn sounded. He added that he wasn’t aware at the time that National Federation of High School Water Polo Rule 12 Section 6 states that a timeout called when neither team has possession is supposed to result in a penalty throw for the team not calling the timeout. “The potential implications of the referee’s decision are huge,” said Cameron. “Although we’ll never know how the game would have played out, the 80-percent statistical odds for successful penalty shots were definitely in our favor, especially given that were only nine seconds left on the clock.”
The loss was especially heartbreaking for four seniors on the team who were on Hood River’s inaugural water polo team three years ago. The team has made big strides each year that Arthur Finstad, Russel Grim, Blake Winner, and Myles Cameron had hoped to accomplish the incredible feat of going from a brand-new team as freshmen to state champions as seniors. The other players returning from previous years, senior Charlie Sutherland, junior Adam Cameron, sophomore Cole Rothman, and Mears, shared in the disappointment over the close loss to Summit, still remembering the outcome of the 2014 season. Last year, the already impressive but still fairly inexperienced Hood River team had a bit of Cinderella season and made it through an easier semifinals championship bracket, only to be squashed by the powerhouse Summit team in the finals.
“We knew that we had improved enough since last year to be competitive with Summit. However, we had the bigger challenge this year of having to beat them in the semifinals, as there are only three 5A conferences, and we rotate each year as to which conference winner has to face another conference winner in the semifinals,” Cameron explained. As it turned out, the seedings did not matter in the end, as the number two team from the Eastern Conference, Mountain View, defeated Southern Conference champion Ashland in the semifinals and then went on to defeat its own conference rival Summit in the championship finals.
The HRV team, dispirited after its semifinal loss to Summit, played against Ashland to determine third and fourth place. The Eagles played at least as well as they had against Summit, but could not get enough shots past Ashland’s talented goalie, who was named as the first team goalie of the championship tournament, and they lost the game, 8-6.
“We were hoping to play against Ashland in the tournament, but we expected it to be in the finals, not in a battle for third place. There were four equally strong teams in the semifinals this year, and on any given day I think it would be a toss-up as to who would come out on top,” said Cameron. “Even though we didn’t win the championship, I am so proud to have a team that can compete at this level.”
Not only are the Eagles competitive at the state level in the 5A division, the results of the 6A championship indicate that Hood River could compete equally well in the 6A division, as regular season rival Sam Barlow, which finished in second place to Hood River in the Mt. Hood Conference, took second place in their first-ever appearance in the 6A state championships.
Cameron attributes much of the team’s success to off-season play by key team members and by the team’s opportunity to practice and play in one of the few pools in the state that allows for an all-deep water polo field, as most high schools play in a pool that is shallow on one end. “The Hood River Aquatic Center is an excellent venue for water polo, and we are indebted to Hood River Valley Parks and Recreation staff for making room in the pool for water polo,” said Cameron. “We also benefited this year from the addition of Dave Robinson to our coaching staff.” Robinson, who played Division I water polo at UC Santa Barbara, helped coach both the boys and the girls teams, and his emphasis on strong defensive skills contributed greatly to the success of both teams, Cameron said.
Mears was the high scorer for the championship weekend, with three goals against Summit and two goals against Ashland. The remaining goals were distributed fairly evenly, with two each for the weekend by Grim, Cameron, and Rothman, one each by Finstad and Sutherland, and one full-court goal by goalie Adam Cameron in the game against Summit. State championship tournament honors went to Myles Cameron (first team) and Grim (second team), with honorable mentions to Finstad, Mears, and goalie Adam Cameron.
“Despite having seven graduating seniors on the team, including newcomers Cam Marquez and David Walker, I am really excited about the prospect of an equally impressive high school water polo team next year,” Cameron said. “JJ and Cole have been outstanding players throughout the season as sophomores and their performance at the championship games provides a preview of the team’s continuing strength next year. Freshmen Chad Klaas, Pelle Bergstrom, and Sam Einhorn have gained invaluable experience playing at the varsity level, and I expect all three of them to benefit not just from an additional year of growing older and stronger, but also from their plans for playing in competitive club tournaments this spring. Newcomer Junior Liam Longland has moved up so quickly on the learning curve as goalie that he’ll be able to provide Adam with an opportunity to spend some or maybe even all of his time as field player. Adam has scored so many full-court goals from the goalie cage, we can’t wait to see what he does with that arm and his overall athleticism when we turn him loose in the field. We expect to be back at the championships next year, and we fully intend to win.”