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Suffocating Defense Keeps Bruins Alive in CCS Playoffs

The Santa Clara Bruins and Nia Bumbaca used their defense skills to keep them afloat in their first few CCS playoffs games.

The Santa Clara Bruins water polo team has won each of their first two games of the CCS playoffs. On Saturday, Nov. 9, the sixth-seeded Bruins used their suffocating team defense to swim past three-seeded Menlo-Atherton by a 9-5 final. Santa Clara followed that up with an 8-6 win over No. 2 seed Los Altos on Tuesday. They will now play for the Division I CCS Championship on Saturday, Nov. 16 against No. 1 seeded Gunn.

At Santa Clara’s opening round win against Menlo-Atherton, the squad came in with an excellent game plan put together by Head Coach Aja Bumbaca.

Santa Clara’s second goal of the game, a perfectly placed shot from Emily Wood off the far post was exactly what coach Bumbaca was looking for from her team.


“We went back to the drawing board this last week and did situational stuff. If they drop off you, you have to be a threat, you have to make them make a choice,” remarked coach Bumbaca on their practices leading up to the opening round game. “They can’t just guard Mariah [Walker] and win the game.”

There is no mistaking Walker as one of the Bruins’ best players, but when teams focus on taking her away, players like Wood, Kathryn Peak and Nia Bumbaca have been able to step up. On Saturday, it was Bumbaca pacing the scoring with four goals.

“When you have a lefty, you always have to be aware of where they are, because they have such a great advantage,” said Wood on her teammate Bumbaca getting open. “I think we have gotten used to seeing when she’s open and giving her the ball. She has a really nice shot, when she’s open you gotta get her the ball.”

Knowing Walker would still get her goals — she got three — and others could lead the offense, coach Bumbaca had her second-best overall player in Peak primarily focus on leading the defense.

“Her concern this game was defense and she knew that. It was her job to direct traffic, pull people back and call people forward,” noted coach Bumbaca. “Her mindset was defense and she knew she needed to be on point communication wise in order for us to win.”

The halftime score Saturday was just 5-4 in the Bruins favor, but three of the four Bears goals came via the six-on-five advantage. Conversely, only two of the Bruins five first-half goals were while up six on five. Santa Clara knew that if they just limited their exclusion penalties, that the Bears would not be able to penetrate their defense.

“We noticed most of their goals were from exclusions so at halftime we had a really deep talk that we have to communicate our switches better, so we are never down a player,” remarked Walker after Saturday’s win. “Had to stay away from six on five and we did that in the second half.”

The timing for Saturday’s championship game is still to be determined as of press time.


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