For a few seconds after the Santa Monica girls water polo team’s game Tuesday afternoon, the scoreboard displayed an improbable result of 100-2.
The score wasn’t correct, but it seemed like it could have been.
After facing numerous top-tier squads in a challenging preseason slate, the Vikings sent a powerful message with their dominant 18-2 drubbing of Torrance to open conference play at Drake Pool.
It was the beginning of a title defense for Samohi (10-10, 1-0 in the Ocean League), which went undefeated in the regular season last year to capture the conference crown. The squad reached the CIF Division 6 quarterfinals before bowing out against Yorba Linda.
If the Vikings repeat and make another run in the state playoffs this season, they’ll do it without several graduated seniors and with a small roster that won’t be able to rely on size or strength advantages.
They learned during their non-conference schedule, which included a lopsided 13-3 tournament loss to Lake Forest-El Toro in last month’s Villa Park Classic, that speed and smarts are their strong suits.
“We’ve had to rebuild a bit, but we did pretty well against some pretty good teams,” coach Matt Flanders said. “We could’ve won a few more, but the whole goal of the preseason for us is to improve and get the experience with the physicality of play.”
That experience certainly showed Tuesday.
Samohi overwhelmed Torrance from the start, notching four goals in the opening quarter en route to scoring the first seven points of the game and building up a 9-2 halftime advantage.
Standout seniors Daniella Melamed and Caoimhe Whitebloom each tallied five goals to lead the Vikings, junior Olivia Allen added four and Allissa Hattori chipped in two. Also scoring were sophomores Audrey Hattori and Kalen Lehmann.
Samohi was perhaps even more impressive on the defensive end, stifling the Tartars and repeatedly forcing turnovers. The visitors didn’t score a single goal in the second half and had trouble linking passes when the Vikings applied pressure.
Playing with a lead comes with its own set of problems, though.
“When we get high scores like that, we can’t just be like, ‘Oh, we’re winning,'” said senior Sierra Kelly, who split time at goalkeeper with sophomore Amalie Lueng-Solli. “Flanders told us after the game that we need one mode, and that’s ‘kill.’ We want to be beasts.”
Samohi had plenty of beastly moments against Torrance. In the first quarter, Allen scored from the left side with a powerful strike on goal. In the second period, Whitebloom stole the ball and threw a perfectly placed long pass to Melamed, who found the back of the net. After halftime, the Vikings demonstrated improved ball movement while keeping the Tartars at bay.
Even against inferior league opponents, Samohi aims to channel the intensity of Division 1 tournaments by congregating in juju circles before competitions.
“We started doing it before practice and now we do it before games,” defensive leader Leah Gutentag-Duff said. “A minute before we go in, it’s just a way to regroup. We say, ‘Good vibes, good vibes.'”
Flanders, meanwhile, was pleased with the final score against Torrance but saw room for improvement. He’s curious how his team will perform Thursday afternoon on the road against El Segundo.
“We should’ve done a little bit better,” he said. “We were good in spurts, and we want to be more consistent. But I think we have an opportunity to do some good things this year.”
Contact Jeff via email at email@example.com, by phone at 310-573-8351 or on Twitter.