The Fremont Firebirds water polo squad has quickly gone from El Camino League Champions to underdogs in their first round playoff matchup. Despite a 9-1 mark in league, the Firebirds are an eighth seed set to take on top seed Santa Cruz in their Division II CCS bracket.
That said, there might not be an eighth seed more primed for a first round upset than the Firebirds. The Santa Cruz Cardinals are ranked ninth overall in CCS. Fremont isn’t far behind with a 15th spot in the section rankings.
Furthermore, the Firebirds have the key neutralizer to overcome even the toughest opponents in the pool; they have Britt Vanlerberghe in goal. The senior goalie is considered one of the best goalies in all of the CCS.
“It’s so nice having Britt; I love Britt so much,” exclaimed teammate Hana Daron. “She’s always reliable and always there for us not only on defense but also on offense. Whenever we are countering the other way, she’s able to throw the ball all the way down to the other side of the pool.”
“The term used for water polo sometimes for a really good goalie is a brick wall, and that’s her,” added senior teammate Naomi Weiss. “She’s in every spot that you need her to be. Our shots have also improved from having to shoot on her in practice.”
Vanlerberghe’s older sister, June Vanlerberghe, was also a goalie for Fremont. While the sisters break down the game together from their viewpoints as goalies, Britt jokes she initially didn’t want to be a goalie like her sister.
“I started water polo in seventh grade as a field player up until freshman year of high school, and I was still set on being a field player because I did not want to be like my sister,” laughed Vanlerberghe. “I didn’t want to really be in her shadow as a goalie, but at the time, there were no other goalies for JV or varsity and my sister was graduating. Coaches were really pushing me to be goalie because I’m tall and my sister was really good, so I tried it and learned I was pretty solid at it.”
Not only do the Firebirds have their brick wall between the pipes, but they certainly appear to be peaking at the right time heading into the postseason.
“When we first played Wilcox in the middle of the season, we weren’t really a team then,” remarked junior Liana Sheridan. “But after that, we have done a lot of team bonding and I think that has really strengthened the trust between teammates and made us a stronger team overall.”
Fremont beat Wilcox in their first matchup 5-4 but cruised to a victory in the second to last game of the league season against the Chargers by a 6-1 final.
Head Coach Catherine Capriles is confident in her squad despite not knowing much about the Cardinals.
“We’re not too worried [about scouting Santa Cruz]; it’s not going to change the way we play our game,” chimed Capriles. “We’re going to go to our strengths. We’re going to do the things that we’re good at.”
Fremont will hop in the pool against the Cardinals down in Santa Cruz at 11:30 Saturday morning.
Correction: Liana Sheridan is a junior, not a senior.
I fixed it in the article. Thank you for letting us know.