Tulare Western girls water polo dominates Bullard

Tulare Western’s Gianna Fernandes shoots against Bullard. Fernandes finished the game with three goals for the Mustangs.(Kason Clark)

The Tulare Western Mustangs defeat Bullard 18-8 in a playoff game at home this past Saturday; the Mustangs advance to the Division 2 Central Section semifinals to face Morro Bay

TULARE – After opening the postseason with a 20-6 win over Hanford West, Tulare Western girls water polo looked to keep it rolling when it hosted Bullard this past Saturday, No. 4. In their home pool, the Mustangs stayed hot as they defeated Bullard, 18-8, to advance to the semifinals of the Division 2 Central Section playoffs.

“I’m really proud of these girls. They’re working well as a unit,” Tulare Western head coach Jenna McGuire said. “They’re passing the ball well and finding openings. That’s what the game is all about so I’m really excited for the way they’ve started out the postseason.”

The Mustangs have especially played well at home this season, where they remain undefeated with a 13-0 record. While the Mustangs have benefited from playing in their home pool, Makayla McGuire believes the Mustangs can play well anywhere.

“Home pool advantage has a very big impact but I think that we’re strong enough that we can go to other pools and still dominate,” Makayla said.

Along with remaining undefeated at home this fall, the Mustangs improved their overall record to 26-7 this season. As the Mustangs head further into the postseason, they are hitting their stride as they have now gone 12-1 in their last 13 games.

“We’ve made some adjustments to our offense and our defense,” Jenna said about their recent success. “We finally found people’s niche skills and they’re really working those positions to a high degree. That’s what we want to see, people finding what they’re good at and capitalizing.”

From the jump, the Mustangs took it to Bullard. Lauren Starr scored to give the Mustangs the lead and Makayla made back-to-back goals to push the lead to 3-0. Starr and Makayla each scored another goal to make it an early 5-0 lead for the Mustangs. As the offense started hot, Makayla believes it just demonstrated how confident the Mustangs are right now.

“We just have good team morale,” Makayla said. “We’ve been practicing plays and we’ve been working together trying to improve and it really just paid off as it got us to a good start.”

Bullard finally scored, but the Mustangs ended the first quarter with goals from Gianna Fernandes and Lilian Babb to make it a 7-1 lead. Fernandes started the second quarter with two straight goals and Makayla followed that up with another goal to push the lead to 10-1. Against a hot Bullard team, the Mustangs were already in control.

“We were just really confident as a team,” Makayla said. “We’re very confident in each other and I think that definitely has a big impact on how we came into the game.”

The Knights scored two straight goals as they tried to keep pace. But Olivia Machado scored to give the Mustangs an 11-3 lead heading into halftime. In the second half, the Mustangs continued to score to pull away for the win. Makayla finished the game with six goals to lead her team. Starr had four goals of her own while Fernandes scored three for the Mustangs.

The Mustangs will now head on the road to face Morro Bay in the semifinals on Nov. 8. As the Mustangs get ready to face the No. 1 seed in their bracket, Jenna looks to keep the Mustangs focused and excited as they try to extend their season.

“We’re going to keep people engaged in the game and excited to play. We don’t want anybody to be burnt out yet,” Jenna said. “We’re just going to keep things fun and work on the little details that are going to end up being big down the road. We’re going to go into the semifinals with a good mindset, feeling confident, feeling proud of ourselves and hopefully we can take another win.”  

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