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Oakville scores final five goals to rally past Marquette for girls water polo title

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LADUE — Swimming up to the five-meter line for a penalty shot with just more than two minutes left in a tie game, Jenna Wolf was feeling a bit queasy.

“I felt like I could throw up,” the Oakville senior standout said. “I was excited and knew I could nail it. I was looking for the whistle to take a deep breath, calm down and go for the corner.”

Wolf gathered herself and buried the shot off the inside post to give the Tigers the lead for good. It was part of a five-goal run to end the game Saturday that lifted Oakville to an 11-8 win over Marquette in the Missouri Water Polo district tournament girls championship at MICDS' Orthwein Pool in the Steward Aquatic Center.

The win gave No. 1 seed Oakville (13-4) redemption for falling to the Mustangs in last year's inaugural girls title game.

“They had a really good game plan and I said from the beginning their goalie (Meg Murphy) is phenomenal and could keep them in the game, and she definitely did. We could not get it past her until the fourth quarter,” Tigers coach Brett Walters said. “But our motto this year has been 'Believe.' Even when we were down two goals in the fourth quarter, I kept coming back to that. That's how we never really lost hope.”

Second-seeded Marquette (12-3) led for much of the game but faded a bit down the stretch in suffering its third close loss to the Tigers this season.

“I thought we might have had it this time, but we ran out of steam at the end,” Mustangs coach Scott Summers said. “I'm really proud of Brett and his team. We've had a good relationship, so if it wasn't us, I'm glad it was them.”

After tallying just six goals in the first 24 minutes of the game, the Tigers scored five goals in the final four minutes to grab the championship.

“We went into this game knowing that we could be down by a certain point, but we told ourselves we had to keep our spirits up no matter what and play until it's over,” Wolf said. “It's not over until it's over and we saw that.”

Freshman Alexa Matoushek was a key figure in the comeback with a pair of goals 59 seconds apart — both on great feeds from Wolf — that tied the game 8-8 and set the stage for Wolf's penalty shot.

“We really couldn't have done it without everyone, so scoring for everyone is great,” Matoushek said. “She's amazing with her passes. She can just aim it perfectly. She's crazy good.”

Wolf misfired on a penalty shot two minutes into the game when she banged her shot off the crossbar, but she made up for it in a big way in a big moment with just 2 minutes and 6 seconds remaining. Her late-game five-meter also clanged off iron, but it was the inside of the post and the ball spun in for what would be the eventual game-winner.

“I really preach that next play mentality, and she totally has that, which has been so wonderful for our team this year,” Walters said. “To miss a five-meter can get in your head, but it doesn't faze her one bit. I loved that she got to take that one to take the lead. That was storybook.”

Kaylee Nguyen and Lauren Manning each scored in the game's final 1:29 to ice the win in a title game that was played in front of a raucous crowd for both teams.

“It's absolutely wonderful knowing how many people came out,” Wolf said. “Not only people cheering and getting our spirits up, but maybe there was someone in the crowd that didn't know about the sport and now they're gonna be interested in it.”

The teams traded goals in a first quarter than ended in a 2-2 tie.

Annie Mangan gave Marquette a 1-0 lead 1:26 into the game before Wolf and Nguyen each hit the crossbar to keep the Tigers off the board.

Wolf got the Tigers on the board with a goal with 2:22 left in the quarter. Marquette's Alexia Monticone and Oakville's Manning each scored in the final 1:44 of the first.

Wolf's great cross-pool pass led to Abby Alton's lob-shot goal to give the Tigers their first lead of the game at 3-2 with 3:26 left in the first half, but Erin Huff and Katie Arens tallied goals in the final 1:45 to give Marquette the lead back at 4-3, capping a first half in which no player on either team scored more than one goal.

Monticone became the first player to score twice when she lobbed one in 2:33 into the second half to give the Mustangs a two-goal lead, but the Tigers got goals from Alexis Penning and Alton tie the game with 2:11 left in the third.

Marquette leading scorer Brianna Allstun then notched her first goal just 22 seconds later and the Mustangs enjoyed a 6-5 lead at the end of three quarters.

Matoushek tied the game with her first of three fourth-quarter goals inside the first minute of the final quarter, but Arens tallied goals on back-to-back possessions to give the Mustangs a two-goal lead before the offensive well went dry for them.

“We've been working all year on having some of our younger players shoot the ball more when they have the opportunity,” Summers said. “We like to get them in the strike zone, which is between the posts and as far out as they can shoot. They really started realizing here near the end that, if they're open, they can let it rip.”

But it was a freshman in Matoushek who helped bring the Tigers back from the brink of a heartbreaking loss.

“It's super awesome, especially for the seniors that were really devastated last year,” she said. “It was great to be a part of it and I'm so excited to keep going through my high school career.”

And it was a senior standout in Wolf who capped her high school career in style before heading off to play in college at McKendree.

“I started crying in the water, and so did all the other seniors,” she said. “We had dreams about this and to finally get this is amazing.”

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