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(photo by Daniel Archuleta)

SAMOHI The girls water polo team has finals on their minds, but they would never admit it.

As the entire campus is knee-deep in exams, Vikings players are busy preparing for a different kind of finals. But, these finals don’t require no. 2 pencils or Scantrons.

It may be taboo to talk playoffs at this point of the season, yet there are certainly those on the team who would like to make it past the semi-finals of the California Interscholastic Federation playoffs and perhaps to the championship game.

But, if they are going to make it to the rarefied air of a CIF title game, they have much to do.

“This is just like school work,” assistant coach Al Trundle said to the team during a break in practice on Wednesday afternoon. “You have to study, ask questions.

“It’s just like your finals in class.”

Some of those lessons are fundamental. Players need to defend, players need to score on offense. Those are givens. Other lessons are a little harder to define.

As head coach Matt Flanders paced alongside Samohi’s pool during practice, he barked instructions to his players. He isn’t the type to shy away from a teaching moment and he isn’t afraid to get his players out of the water, onto the sidelines and into a huddle.

He pleads with them to stay focused. Warns them against regressing. He is a quintessential coach. Both understanding and tough as nails.

The understanding part is the easier of the two to stomach. It’s the tough as nails part that gets his players’ attention.

“He’s a very verbal coach,” senior Suzi Ortega said sheepishly after practice. “He’s always yelling out to us … giving us encouragement.”

While the yelling is a part of the game, it’s what is yelled that often makes the difference between winning and losing.

“Whenever an [opposing] player tries to get past our defense, coach is always reminding us to get back and defend,” senior Melody Conrad said. “He always seems to know the right thing to say during games.”

When it comes to talking playoffs, Flanders toes the company line and is sure not to get ahead of himself. He hints at the playoffs, but is smart to keep his mind on Ocean League play.

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The team is 3-0 in league and 9-7 on the season and getting better by the game. The squad will get a shot to improve their record today against league rival Beverly Hills High School.

“They are always physical,” Flanders said. “They are also well coached, so it’s going to be a good game.”

If his Vikings are to come out victorious they have to put goals on the scoreboard. Flanders knows defense wins championships, but it will take some serious firepower to defeat Beverly Hills.

He’ll look to Ortega and Conrad to lead the way on offense and anticipates that Hope Clement and Lauren Nadel will also have to factor into the mix to notch a win.

Flanders, who has been with the team since its inception in 1996, said that his team has traditionally been a defensive minded team, he has made the development of the Vikings’ offense a priority this season.

If the team’s league record is any indicator, the experiment has been a success thus far.

“I think we have a strong team this year,” Flanders said. “We just have to keep improving and adding plays.”

He feels that his team has the personnel to reach the playoffs again, but sees El Segundo and Torrance as serious contenders for the league title.

With that in mind, Flanders wants to keep his players focused on the task at hand before getting ahead of themselves.

“We have to win league before we can even think about (the playoffs),” Flanders said.

daniela@smdp.com