Girls water polo survives ‘Hail Mary’ in Ojai

Malibu's Linda Brown, #20, shoots on the Nordhoff goal. 

Despite being on the wrong end of a miraculous length-of-the-pool, buzzer-beating shot to force over time, the Malibu High girls water polo team fought back for a tough road win against Nordhoff last week. 

The strong play of seniors Jenny Hill-Carta, Linda Brown and Rae Jackson was the catalyst as the girls stayed on track for a seventh consecutive league title in the thrilling 14-9 overtime win last week in Ojai. The victory improved the Sharks’ to 4-0 in the Tri-Valley League and 8-6 overall. 

The Sharks, in control for much of the night, were forced to regroup after Nordhoff scored two goals in the final 32 seconds to shockingly send the game into an extra period. 

“I thought in overtime the girls got their heads together and kind of realized what was going on,” Malibu Coach Meredith Butte said. “They pulled together and made that last period the best. I’m proud of them and we got out alive and survived another day.”

The contest in Ojai between Malibu, ranked No. 5 in CIF-SS Division VI, and Nordhoff was not expected to be as tough as it played out. Malibu cruised for much of the game, before the upset-minded Rangers pulled a few tricks from their sleeves. 

Trailing 9-7 with 32 seconds left, the host Rangers scored what appeared to be a consolation goal to cut the deficit to one.

On the ensuing possession, the Sharks passed the ball around for the entire time until the 30-second shot clock expired. The turnover gave Nordhoff one final possession and two seconds to create a miracle. 

Nordhoff goalkeeper Nicole Neumann dumped the ball to teammate Taylor Cobb, who fired a desperation shot from three-quarters of the pool away. The ball skipped once and unbelievably under the arms of MHS goalie Sara Toussieng for a goal as the buzzer sounded.

A stunned Malibu team was silenced by the surprise and screams of the Nordhoff fans in attendance. Butte argued vehemently but to no avail that the “Hail Mary” shot was not taken in time. With the game tied at nine apiece, the momentum had suddenly swung in favor of the Rangers as the teams entered into two three-minute overtime sessions.

The momentum did not last long. An exclusion on Nordhoff gave Malibu a 6-on-5 advantage on the first possession, which the Sharks capitalized when Hill-Carta tallied her fifth score of the game with a shot to the upper right corner of the goal at the 2:26 mark.

Just 26 seconds later, Malibu came right back again courtesy of a steal and score by Brown. On the ensuing Nordhoff possession, Toussieng made two nice blocks to make the Sharks’ new two-goal lead stand up. It was then advantage Malibu, as Brown over whelmed the Nordhoff defense with her powerful arm with two more goals in the last minute to take a 13-9 lead into the final extra period.

Brown, who leads MHS with 48 goals and 31 steals on the season, put icing on the cake with another score late in the final overtime period to cap off the hard-earned victor y. She finished the match with eight goals. 

“Linda (Brown) is a beast. When she gets mad she takes control,” Butte said. “She and Jenny (Hill-Carta) had a great game.”

Toussieng, a junior, has 100 blocks on the season and played suffocating defense in the extra periods after allowing the miraculous goal to force over time. Hill-Carta provided leadership and tenacity on the defensive side.

“We are a close-knit group of girls that whenever we are faced with a challenge we will out-swim them and out-play them,” said Hill-Carta, who has 34 goals and 25 drawn ejec tions on the season. “As long as we just keep doing what we are doing, we should win ever y game, and win league, and move on to CIF.” 

Last season the Sharks shared the Tri-Valley League title with Carpinteria. In order to roll the lucky seven, Butte had MHS play strong non-league competition against the likes of Oxnard, Calabasas, Louisville, Thousand Oaks, Ventura and Pacifica. Malibu went 4-6 but improved tremendously in preparation for the defense of its league title.

Wins against Cate (21-11), Carpinteria (6-4), Villanova (17- 5) and Nordhoff have Malibu in prime position to make another league title run. 

As of press time, the Sharks were undefeated with contests against Oaks Christian and Cate having been played earlier this week.

Malibu will play in the tough Oxnard Tournament this Friday and Saturday as the Sharks focus on the upcoming second round of league play and the CIF playoffs in a few weeks.

“I’m happy with league play. I can’t really ask anymore from the girls,” Butte said. “They come every day ready to work.”