Sweet Victory | © Iris Smoot/Acorn Newspapers
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© Iris Smoot/Acorn Newspapers
Rio Mesa High School senior Cameron Custance pretends to take the traditional bite out of the CIFSouthern Section Div. 6 Championship plaque after the Spartan boys’ water polo team won the title game against Malibu High School on Nov. 20 in Irvine. The Spartans won 9-4 for their first section crown. It was the third straight appearance for Rio Mesa in the title match. © Iris Smoot/Acorn Newspapers

The Rio Mesa High boys’ water polo team didn’t just keep knocking on the door.

It set up camp. Hey, it virtually moved onto the front porch.

All the perseverance reaped the grand prize Saturday.

Runner-up the past two seasons in the division finals, the Spartans became CIF-Southern Section champions in their third try with a decisive 9-4 victory over familiar foe Malibu in the Division 6 title match at the William Woollett Aquatics Center.

Lucas Villa scored four goals, Cameron Custance tallied two and the Spartans defense proved resolute in racking up the school’s first section crown in water polo.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” said Custance, a senior and three-year varsity player. “It was such a hard feeling last year not to win the championship. Our goal from Day 1 this season was to win the championship.

“We told ourselves this is the year we won it all. We looked at the runner-up plaque every day in our team room to remind ourselves.”

Talk about a pressure season. Coach Derrick Timmons conceded anything less than a Southern Section crown would have been a disappointing year.

“Absolutely,” Timmons said. “Our players knew what we wanted to accomplish. Today, I didn’t have to say a word to them. They knew and they got it done.”

On a dreary, rainy day, the Spartans noticed nothing but sunshine. They celebrated in the pool, then made sure Timmons joined them for a postgame dip.

“I put a bear hug on him and pulled him in,” said Custance with a grin.

Afterward, the hugs kept on coming.

“We won this as a team,” said Villa. “It’s a very special feeling.”

Rio Mesa, the Pacific View League champion, plays up to its top seed in finishing 26-7, including three victories over Tri-Valley League champ Malibu. The Sharks, a division runner-up in two of the last three seasons, finished 22-6-2.

“It’s hard to lose,” said Malibu coach Mike Mulligan. “You get this far, and you want nothing more to finish with a victory. But it’s hard to get here and even harder to win the championship game. (Rio Mesa) is a very good team. They did what they needed to do and we did not.”

Theo Guillemot, Ryan Brown, Emmet Pierson and Kris Kakiakin all had single goals for Malibu. Preventing them from getting more was Rio Mesa goalie Kyle Walthall, who finished with six saves.

After close defeats in two previous finals, Rio Mesa eschewed any drama Saturday.

Malibu scored the first goal on Guillemot’s shot from about 10 yards out with 4:22 left in the opening quarter. Matt Serrata scored the equalizer for Rio Mess less than a minute later by tossing a lob into the cage past Malibu goalie Dane Sartorius.

That set off a string of six straight goals by the Spartans, which resulted in a 6-2 halfltime lead.

Joe Yamamoto took a rebound after Custance hit the post and powered a shot into the net for the go-ahead score in the first period.

Two goals on 6-on-5 advantages — one by Custance and one by Villa — opened up a 4-1 lead after one quarter. After three periods, the lead was 8-3.

Villa said two previous trips to the finals added precious experience.

“We were able to keep our composure and just make plays,” he said. “It helped that we’ve been here before.”

Balance and defense also played key roles for the Spartans.

Rio Mesa’s defensive pressure proved instrumental as Malibu missed on its first six man-advantage opportunities.

“Our defense won the game,” Villa said.

Five different Spartans scored goals. Yamamoto, Serrata and Zack Womack finished with single scores.

“In the past, we have one or two go-two guys that did all the scoring,” Custance said. “This team relies on everybody to score goals. That’s why we’re hard to stop, Anybody can pick up the slack.”

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