Southridge uses defense and toughness to win its first-ever state polo title
by: Dan Brood READY TO SCORE — Southridge’s David Stiling looks to shoot over Newberg’s Craig Beecher Saturday.

CORVALLIS - Nothing and no one.

Not even Newberg.

That's what was going to stand in the way of the Southridge boys water polo team this year.

The Skyhawks proved it in non-league play, proved it en route to the 2011 Metro League championship, then proved it yet again at state, winning their first-ever state crown by beating Newberg 9-6 at Osborn Aquatic Center on Saturday night.

Saturday's win capped a perfect season for Southridge at 19-0, snapped Newberg's six-year state winning streak, and sent the Skyhawks' four seniors - goalie Jamal Teano, Kyle Blandin, DJ Heino, Devon DeJardin - out with a flourish.

'After four years of losing to Newberg, I was so ready to beat them,' said Heino, a first-team all-state pick who scored two goals in the championship. 'The main thing was we had six starting guys who played together a lot.'

'Ending my senior year with a state championship is great,' added Blandin, another first-team all-state pick who scored once again Newberg. 'This year, we had six guys who could all play, and just being with these guys for this amount of years gave us a great opportunity to know each other's strengths and weaknesses.'

The key to the team's success, the Skyhawks all agreed, came with their focus, effort and determination on defense. Teano, in fact, won first-team all-tournament honors for his efforts in goal.

'We tried to focus on defense the whole time,' said sophomore Blake Hokkanen, a first-team all-state pick who scored three times in the title contest. 'We really wanted to stop Kale (Rogers) and Taylor (McMaster) - that was our main focus.'

'We always stressed defense,' Blandin added. 'And once we shut down their top two guys, they didn't have a lot of other good options.'

The Skyhawks admitted to some nerves before the start of the title match, but once the ball hit the pool, those nerves seemed to disappear immediately. Newberg held its own early, leading 2-1 after Rogers' second goal midway through the first period, but Southridge took off after that.

The Skyhawks scored four goals in the final 3 minutes, 10 second of the first period to take control, getting two scores from Heino and one each from Hokkanen and one from Blandin to grab a 5-2 lead.

Newberg did some good defensive work of its own in the second quarter, though, held the Hawks to a single Hokkanen goal, and closed within 6-4 at the half thanks to two scores by McMaster.

The Tigers got even closer, at 6-5, when Rogers connected 1:20 into the third stanza, but the Skyhawks weren't going to let this one get away. Southridge scored three times in the final four minutes of the third and first minute of the fourth to take a 9-5 edge they would not relinquish.

Cody Blandin notched the first of those three goals with four minutes left in the third, Jarred Rimby followed suit two minutes later, and David Stiling capped the festivities for that 9-5 lead just 16 seconds into the fourth quarter.

It wasn't easy, though. While Southridge fouled out Rogers - the tournament MVP - early in the fourth quarter, the Skyhawks had similar troubles of their own. Cody Blandin picked up his third ejection and left the game midway through the final period, and Heino fouled out with 26 seconds to go - but by then, it was too late.

'I didn't even realize the game was over since the final buzzer went off. I was just focused on not letting them score and come back,' Hokkanen said. 'It was good to finally win a championship. It was just all the hard work we put in this summer, that and the maturity and getting to play with each other so much. We just blended together.'

'It was just a great feeling of calm' when the game ended, Kyle Blandin said. 'That all this worry washed away. It just felt great.'

Cody Blandin and Stiling were also honored with berths on the all-tournament second team.

Southridge 21, Reynolds 7

The Skyhawks left absolutely nothing to chance in their Friday semifinal victory over Reynolds.

Southridge sprinted out to a 6-1 first-quarter lead, boosted that edge to 13-3 at halftime and coasted home from there, limiting Reynolds to just four goals in the game's first three quarters.

Stiling and Hokkanen scored twice each in the first quarter, Hokkanen connected three times in the second while Stiling and Kyle Blandin added two each in the second.

Hokkanen went for two more in the third period, and five different players scored for the Skyhawks in the fourth. Sterling Anderson connected four times for the Raiders - the second-place team from the Mt. Hood Conference - but Reynolds simply didn't have enough firepower to keep up.

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