Valhalla water polo team wins league

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Three generations of water polo were represented at Grossmont’s pool on Thursday, November 3. On one side, Valhalla’s head coach Kent Houston stood with eagle-eyes, checking each play of his mostly-underclassmen team during the intense final game against the undefeated Foothillers. On the other side, Grossmont’s head coach Clint McLaughlin, who happens to be one of Houston’s own former Norseman, urged his team on in an aggressive stand against their rivals, enveloped in a sea of blue and orange banners. 

Three generations of water polo were represented at Grossmont’s pool on Thursday, November 3. On one side, Valhalla’s head coach Kent Houston stood with eagle-eyes, checking each play of his mostly-underclassmen team during the intense final game against the undefeated Foothillers. On the other side, Grossmont’s head coach Clint McLaughlin, who happens to be one of Houston’s own former Norseman, urged his team on in an aggressive stand against their rivals, enveloped in a sea of blue and orange banners. 

The two men, once former coach and student, now find themselves opposite the pool quite frequently, as they coach a new generation of East County water polo players, this time battling for the Grossmont Hills League Championship. 

Following three losses against the Foothillers this season, Valhalla came out with extra drive to settle the score. Both teams were were neck and neck in the chilling fight for first for much of the game, Grossmont playing a hard offense and Valhalla responding immediately to even the scoreboard. In the last quarter, the Foothillers became noticeably unraveled, missing several opportunities to score and letting the Norsemen take command of their waters. Battling to the last second on the clock for the final point, Grossmont’s loss became a matter of time. The Norsemen took home the hard-earned victory, 8-7.

Houston said the win was a season in coming.

“It has just been a long process with these boys all season long,” he said. “We had only two returning starters from last year’s team. At first, the beginning of the season, the game was just too fast for them, and now 27 games later, they’ve picked up to the speed and executed the game plan very well.”

The difference between this and other games against Grossmont, Houston said, was mind over matter.

“We kept talking about discipline,” he said. “Today we were more disciplined and played a better defense. Before, we let their strong one-two offense dictate the game, but today we handled them.”

Norseman Andrew Higginson said his team were in their very best form, thanks to daily three-hour practices and a lot of spirit.

“It was a team effort, everybody pitched in,” he said. “We were more fired up than we’ve ever been trying to get a good game, trying to win league for the first time in a long time.”

McLaughlin, a 2003 Valhalla graduate, said his former colors really shown in the Grossmont pool.

“We’ve got to tip our caps to Valhalla,” he said, following the disappointing loss. “They came out very aggressively and got the big goals when they needed it. We were just a little bit off tonight.”

Coaching against his alma mater has taken some getting used to, said McLaughlin.

“It’s interesting,” he said. “When I first coached against Valhalla it was pretty tough, but now I’ve been away long enough that it’s gotten to be a good rivalry.”

Houston said he enjoys sparring against his former athlete.

“He played for me so we play a very similar style of offense,” said the Valhalla coach. “It’s a lot of fun to play against him because I love the guy.”

Both programs will head into playoffs this week, with Grossmont playing in Division I and Valhalla taking on Cathedral Catholic in the Open Division.

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