Defending water polo state champs look the part vs. Aloha

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge freshman Kieran Brink applies pressure to an Aloha attacker during the Skyhawks win on Thursday.

Blink, and any casual observer would have missed the onslaught of goals the Southridge boys' water polo team poured on Aloha on Thursday.

The two-time defending state champions displayed the sort of dominance that's made them the 6A's standard bearers, dropping nine goals on the Warriors in the first quarter to rumble to a 14-7 win.

Four of the Skyhawks' six starters scored in the opening period. Junior Matt Braun tallied a hat trick in just six minutes of play. Senior Blake Hokkanen tacked on a pair of goals including a sick no-look heave while drifting left and throwing to his right. Junior Camden Rigby scored twice as well and senior David Stiling added a couple assists.

Stiling said Southridge wanted to get each of the Skyhawks involved in the game and maintain the offensive flow that's been established early in the year.

“We have a fast team and use that to our advantage,” said Stiling. “We like to come out in the first quarter and just go hard. We like to come out with a presence in the very beginning of the game and put the game away early.”

Equipped with a 9-0 advantage, the Skyhawks banked on their veteran lineup in the first quarter to build their substantial lead and then tried different combinations of older and younger players the rest of the way.

Southridge prefers to put pressure on defense and provoke the turnovers that initiate its deadly counter attacks. Their defense got the ball rolling, and once the Skyhawks reached open water on the fast break, it was showtime with Hokkanen, Stiling, Braun and Rimby supplying the fireworks. Freshmen Kieran Brink, Christopher Schmitt, and Evan Edwards hounded the Warriors into mistakes that were promptly spun into scores. by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior Blake Hokkanen looks for an open teammates in the first quarter of the Skyhawks 14-7 win over Aloha.

“We like to go up early and hold the lead. We started out hard and fast.” said Braun. “Usually, in water polo the best offense is a good defense. If you can get down one-on-nobody that's the easier shot to take.”

The Skyhawks have four guys who can play just about any position and score from anywhere on their side of the pool. The ball rarely sticks in one player's hands as the Skyhawks keep the defense working until they can get the opponent out of position.

“We play a very up-tempo offense and everybody's involved,” said Stiling. “We're always moving around, and I think that's why we're so effective.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior David Stiling takes aim at the goal in the third quarter of the Skyhawks triumph over Aloha.

Strong rapport

Southridge's upperclassmen have played together both at the high school and club level for multiple years. That rapport has been a big bonus as the Skyhawks defend their state crown, being that the elderly nucleus can almost act as assistant coaches in the pool. The Skyhawks' starting six of Hokkanen, Stiling, Braun, Rimby, Arman Griogorian and Mark Moshofsky are as good as any combination in the state and capable of putting up crooked numbers on the scoreboard.

Sophomore Darius Diamond came on strong in the second half off the bench, scoring a trio of goals by making himself available in the middle of the defense and uncorking missiles into the net.

“We know where we are and where we're going to be,” said Hokkanen. “We know the system and what we want to run. We do it pretty well. It's a really balanced offense.”

The only thing standing in the way of a Skyhawk three-peat appears to be Newberg, the team Southridge beat in the 2012 state championship and tied earlier this season. Stiling said the Skyhawks are still working out a couple kinks and trying to piece the right personnel together, but believes Southridge is on track to make it three straight state crowns.

“That's the goal, to go back and beat Newberg again,” said Stiling. “But, it's going to take some work. Everybody's gunning for us, but it's an honor.”

“The end goal is always to win the last game,” said Hokkanen. “We'd like to go for a third time. But, we obviously have some things to improve on from today and work on that before the end goal in November.”

As two-time state champs, the Skyhawks are going to get each foe's best punch. Every game will be the opponent's Super Bowl, if you will. So, Stiling said Southridge can't take any team lightly because the target is squarely on their skull caps.

“When we walk around, we have to walk around with a swagger,” said Stiling. “If everybody's gunning for us, we have to come out hard. We can't take anybody for granted. If we play a bad game, we could lose, and we're going for an undefeated season. We're going to come out in the first quarter, the first half and put that team away.”

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