Tigers, Rio Amer­i­cano al­ready clinched NorCal berths


Three years ago, Court­ney Porter thought he was done coach­ing high school wa­ter polo.

Nicole Itur­raran and Lizzy Mac­farlne talked him out of re­tire­ment.

To­day, the trio and the Tokay High girls wa­ter polo team will take on the de­fend­ing Sac-Joaquin Sec­tion Di­vi­sion II cham­pi­ons in Rio Amer­i­cano. Tokay, the No. 2 seed, faces No. 1 Rio Amer­i­cano, out of Sacra­mento, in the sec­tion ti­tle game at Tokay’s swim­ming pool. The game is sched­uled to start at 1 p.m.

“It’s go­ing to be a tough game,” said Itur­raran, who has scored 120 goals this sea­son, af­ter prac­tice on Fri­day. “We want it and we’re go­ing to bring it to­mor­row.”

The Tokay-Rio Amer­i­cano con­test was sched­uled to take place at Wood­creek High of Ro­seville. But be­cause of the air qual­ity that has be­come un­healthy in the Sacra­mento area due to the smoke com­ing from the Camp Fire in Butte County, sec­tion of­fi­cials moved the six ti­tle games — three boys and girls each — in Di­vi­sions I-III to Tokay’s pool on Fri­day af­ter­noon.

“We’re pre­pared; we’re ready to go,” Porter said.

Tokay (21-3), which won a share of the Tri-City Ath­letic League crown with Lin­coln, and Rio Amer­i­cano (22-8) will play at least one more game af­ter to­day’s con­test. The first-ever CIF NorCal Re­gional Cham­pi­onships in wa­ter polo will take place on Tues­day. The brack­ets are sched­uled to be re­leased on its web­site — cif­s­ — on Sun­day.

“We’re just tak­ing it one game at a time,” Porter said.

To reach to­day’s ti­tle game, Tokay beat Del Oro 7-3 in the semi­fi­nals that were also held at Tokay’s pool on Wed­nes­day. Rio Amer­i­cano (22-8), a mem­ber of the Cap­i­tal Ath­letic League, posted an 8-7 win over Pon­derosa, out of Shin­gle Springs in El Do­rado County, also on Wed­nes­day.

This is the sec­ond meet­ing be­tween Tokay and Rio Amer­i­cano in two weeks. Rio Amer­i­cano posted a nar­row 9-6 win at the Ju­lian Szmidt Me­mo­rial Tour­na­ment at Napa Val­ley Col­lege on Oct. 26.

“I’m a big fan of their coach,” said Porter of Rio Amer­i­cano’s Rachel Ru­ano, who has 22 play­ers on her ros­ter. “They are a lit­tle deeper than we are. Their fun­da­men­tals are out­stand­ing. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is good, pass­ing is good.”

To­day’s ti­tle game is one step fur­ther than what Tokay had last year. The No. 2 seed in D-II, the Tigers earned a first round bye and beat Del Oro in the sec­ond round. Then Bella Vista beat Tokay in the semi­fi­nals at Jo­hansen High’s pool in Modesto.

This is the sec­ond trip to a sec­tion ti­tle game in four sea­sons for Porter. In 2015, he led the Lodi High boys wa­ter polo team to the sec­tion’s D-I ti­tle with a win over Davis Se­nior High.

Af­ter cap­tur­ing the blue ban­ner, Porter, who has been teach­ing science classes at Tokay for the last 38 years, was ready to ride off into the sun­set.

“I had been on a long road with those boys since eighth

grade,” said Porter, re­fer­ring to the 2015 Lodi boys wa­ter polo team. “Our goal was when they grad­u­ated, to win sec­tions. You couldn’t ask for any­thing bet­ter than that.”

En­ter Itur­raran and Mac­far­lane.

Both four-year starters on the var­sity squad, Itur­raran and Mac­far­lane were tak­ing Porter’s AP bi­ol­ogy their sopho­more year dur­ing the 2016-17 school year. Af­ter find­ing out that Ha­ley Ring, who was the 2016 Tokay girls coach, was not go­ing to re­turn for the fol­low­ing sea­son, Itur­raran and Mac­far­lane felt they could talk Porter into com­ing out of re­tire­ment.

Porter said that Itu­rar­ran and Mac­far­lane pre­sented their “emo­tional ap­peal” to coach the Tokay girls squad for the 2017 sea­son and this sea­son.

“We begged him to be our coach,” Mac­far­lane said ear­lier this week. “We knew if we in­vested in Porter, he would in­vest in us.”

Itur­raran added, “We’ve been bounc­ing through dif­fer­ent coaches. It’s such a gift to have Porter. It’s hard not to play for him, try out best to play for him.”

Dur­ing the Tigers’ jour­ney this sea­son, their sparkling record in­cluded wins over cross-town ri­val Lodi and a split de­ci­sion with Lin­coln; the Tro­jans won the first game but Tokay won the sec­ond TCAL meet­ing.

Itur­raran and Mac­far­lane are two of the Tigers’ four se­niors on the team. Syd­ney Stew­art, who had two goals in the team’s win over Del Oro, and Jazmine Main are the other two play­ers.

Ju­niors on the squad are goalie Alanna Stoops, Mira Patino, Macken­zie Dunn, Han­nah Or­tiz, So­phie Smith and Thalia Cam­pos. Katie McLain is the lone sopho­more, and Sirena Or­tiz is the only fresh­man.

Porter notes that the Tigers ap­proach each game like most peo­ple work­ing in their ca­reers — busi­ness like. To­day’s ti­tle game against Rio Amer­i­cano, which beat Bella Vista of Fair Oaks for the crown last year, will be no dif­fer­ent than the pre­vi­ous 24 games.

“We still have busi­ness to at­tend to,” Porter said.

To play to­day’s sec­tion ti­tle game in their own pool is sweet for the Tigers.

“Now we can have all of our Tokay sup­port­ers,” said Itur­raran of hop­ing for a large turnout of fans for to­day’s game. “It’s re­ally big for our school. We’re all re­ally hyped up for it.”

From the start of the sea­son in mid-Au­gust through to­day and Tues­day, Porter has been im­pressed with the im­prove­ments of all 12 play­ers on the ros­ter. He notes that Stoops, a ju­nior who had many saves in the Tigers’ win over Del Oro, has made great strides at the box.

“It all worked out to what we have,” Porter said. “It’s been an un­be­liev­able ride to get to this point.”


Tokay's Katie McLain, right, goes for a steal against Buhach Colony's Ashland Al­corn (14) dur­ing Tokay's play­off vic­tory on Nov. 2 at Tokay. The Tigers will face Rio Amer­i­cano for the D-II ti­tle to­day at Tokay.

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