Rio Mesa rises up

Girls keep their heads above water.
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Rio Mesa High’s Aubrey Larson finds an open path to the cage during Tuesday afternoon’s victory over Pacifica. The Spartans are in first place in league. © Richard Gillard/Acorn Newspapers
The Spartans keep winning and winning and winning.

Rio Mesa High’s girls’ water polo team is a force not only within the Pacific View League, but all of Ventura County.

The Spartans have reached two straight CIF-Southern Section Division 4 championship games. They expect continued success within Division 3.

“We have experience and we have a lot of hunger,” head coach Keith McKnett said.

“We’ve been to the finals twice and we’ve lost twice. We’re hungry but we’re also humble. At the same time, we’re confident.”

While the Spartans (15-3 overall, 4-0 in the Pacific View League at press time) have always been a defensive juggernaut, they are trying to generate a more consistent offense.

They were on fire during a 14-2 obliteration of Pacifica on Tuesday. Rio Mesa plays host to Camarillo on Tuesday at 3:15 p.m.

Courtney Walters is an electrifying star.

A strong all-around athlete who makes her teammates better, the junior utility always seems to have a smile on her face.

“I love our team,” Walters said. “We have such great chemistry. They just make me laugh, and they’re all just great people.”

Teammate Kathryn Arbon nicknamed Walters “Viper” for her ability to pounce for goals and steals from nowhere. Walters has improved her center defense working with 2008 Olympic silver medalist Moriah Van Norman at Trojan Water Polo Club.

“ She’s a game- changer,” McKnett said of Walters. “She can take over a game.

“ She’s one of the better players in this county.”

Madison Wolfe is the fifth goalie in five years at Rio Mesa, but the Spartans haven’t missed a beat with the savvy junior.

“There’s a lot of pressure on you,” Wolfe said of goalkeeping.

She’s used to pressure. Wolfe pitches for the Rio Mesa softball team. Her diamond skills translate to the pool, especially with deep counterattack passes.

“She’s doing really well,” the head coach said of Wolfe. “She works really hard, doesn’t complain and she’s strong. She got hit in the nose and started bleeding one time. She just keeps going.”

Arbon, a utility, is a solid defender who’s not afraid to launch outside shots. She worked her way in the program to earn a cocaptaincy with fellow senior Ashley White.

“Every year I’ve improved a little bit,” said Arbon, a 3.8 gradepoint average honors student who wants to study nursing at Brigham Young University.

White is a standout set defender with big expectations.

“I want to win a CIF title,” said White, whose brother Danny stars for Pepperdine’s water polo team.

“It’s going to be tough. We have a chance if we keep working hard.”

Abby McCardell, a junior utility, said her teammates have developed a “sisterly bond” with each other. McCardell’s older sister Morgan suits up for UC Irvine while her younger sister, Maddie, 11, also plays the sport.

“ We’ve grown strong together,” McCardell said, “not just as individuals.”

Aubrey Larson, who has a 3.7 GPA, is a senior whole set/ utility who enjoys playing this unique sport.

“It’s like all sports mixed into one,” Larson said. “It’s like soccer because there are two goals. It’s like basketball with a center in the middle and wings. It’s like wrestling because it’s so physical. Name a sport, and it could probably be related to water polo.”

Junior driver Tori Carson, who also runs cross country, enjoys bonding at tournaments.

“You get to learn quirky things about each other,” Carson said. “We all get along well.”

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