In a true underdog finish, the Danville girls water polo team beat out the best teams in the country and claimed the National Title on August 4.
The under-14 girls from the club team ‘680 Drivers,’ comprised mostly of girls from in and around Danville, competed in the Water Polo Junior Olympics over the better part of two weeks in Orange County. This year, over 500 teams competed at the tournament, all vying for the gold medal and honor of the National Champion title.
“Their teamwork, tenacity and willingness to work hard was unmatched by any group of girls I’ve ever coached,” head coach Todd Halvorson said.
The girl’s seventh-place finish at the Jr. Olympics last year prompted the team to be the best in 2013. They doubled their efforts by adding additional practice sessions including a considerable commitment to dry land conditioning in addition to swim team and regular water polo practice.
For most, this equated to 2-3 practice sessions per day while cramming in any weekend tournament they could find.
The hard work paid off early as they went undefeated in the Jr. Olympic qualifying tournament. Now what stood before them was four full days of water polo. Four days that would test not only their stamina, but their skills and their resolve as well.
The ‘680’ girls drew a difficult bracket that they needed to win to make it to the medal rounds. In day one of bracket play they easily defeated Bakersfield and Newport Beach. Day two would however not be so easy. They started against their longtime nemesis, San Diego Shores. Shores is known for a very physical style of play but was unmatched by 680’s speed and fluid passing.
The next game against number two ranked Laguna Beach was one of the most exciting games ever played in the sport! The 680 team took a big lead early, but diminished by the fourth quarter. The lead flip-flopped twice in the final minutes and ended in a tie after regulation play. This led to two nail-biting shootouts and in the end--Laguna came out on top of the game by one goal, but lost the bracket to 680.
The next morning brought a battle against Rose Bowl. The game was close, but the final score had 680 on top with a score of 11 to 8. This win put the Drivers into the semi-finals and a shot at the National Title.
Sunday morning brought back San Diego Shores from the losing bracket for another physical, drama-filled game. Neither the physical or dramatic nature of Shores style of play were enough to match the defense, fitness and ball handling of 680. When the final buzzer sounded, 680 was up by two. This led them to the finals against number one seed, and last year’s gold medal winner, Santa Barbara.
UC Irvine stadium pool was the venue for the gold medal game. 680 was focused for the final and not intimidated by their underdog status nor the announcers and TV crew.
680 won the sprint and scored in the first 20 seconds of the game. But this was just the beginning of the battle that saw a group of local girls become greater than the sum of their parts. The score was never separated by more than one or two goals.
The final minutes of the game, 680 center, Lexi Liebowitz scored a miracle shot to go ahead. With her head being held under by two defenders and the ball in hand behind her near her waist, Lexi flicked the ball back handed over her back, and over the goalkeeper's head for the score. It was this kind of astonishing play that later earned the tournament MVP for Lexi Liebowitz.
The final found seventh ranked 680 upsetting number one ranked Santa Barbara by one goal. In a sport that is dominated by teams from Southern California, the girls from 680 beat all odds and came out victors.“As a coach, what more could I ask for? For twelve months these girls gave me everything I asked of them and more. Now they can enjoy the fruits of their labors as they have been crowned National Champions,” said coach Todd Halvorson.