By CHRIS VACCA
Special to the Reporter
The Mercer Island water polo team finished in second at the San Diego Invite Water Polo Tournament from Oct. 17-19 in San Diego, California.
The Islanders came ready to play with two games on day one against Clairemont and Pacific Ridge, both from California. The Islanders marched through both games with victories of 15-10 and 15-9, respectively.
The Islanders offense came out strong in game one with senior leadership from captain Oliver Schaaf (five goals, two steals) and Jack Shoop with four goals coming from the 2-meter position. Max Vacca also added four goals, three assists and six steals for the Islanders.
Game two saw Mercer Island dominate Pacific Ridge with great team defense, forcing 11 steals. Vacca put on an offensive clinic with eight goals on 11 shots. Finn Freidland continued his stellar play in goal with eight saves in each game.
Day two of the tournament, the Islanders came out of the gate flat, which kept Canyon in the game. The Islanders held on to secure the victory with an 11-8 win, which propelled them to the semifinals.
Heading into the final day of the tournament with a 3-0 record, the maroon and white faced a much stronger and physical Helix Highlander team. Again, Mercer Island started out strong with a halftime lead of 8-2. Both the offense and defense for the Islanders was almost flawless. However, the Islanders came out a bit lethargic in the third quarter and Helix found itself only down 9-5 to end the quarter. That provided a wake-up call for the team, as they played the fourth quarter with vigor, scoring three key goals and not allowing Helix to score in the fourth quarter. Of his 10 saves in the cage, Freidland had three highlight saves. Vacca (11 steals) and Torger Peterson (five steals) also had stellar defensive games.
After a clutch win over Helix, the Islanders found themselves in the championship game. This was the first time any Mercer Island water polo team had made it to the finals of a California tournament. Their opponent was another Washington team, their cross-lake rival, the Newport Knights. Heading into the championship game, the teams had previously squared off three times, with Mercer Island having a 2-1 advantage.
The Knights started off slow, but after the first quarter, they never looked back, beating the Islanders, 8-3, to win the championship.
The Islanders (3-6) will look to build on their success in San Diego when they continue league play with an away game against Bainbridge Island, who had beaten the Islanders earlier in the season.