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The Cardinal Newman boys water polo team had a few hours Thursday night to celebrate its biggest accomplishment in school history, and then players and coaches had to prepare for a near four-hour drive to the central valley at 6 a.m. Friday for a chance at a NorCal title.

The Cardinals earned their first North Coast Section Division 2 boys water polo title with a 9-8 nail-biting victory against Terra Linda in Thursday’s championship game Thursday that came down to the final seconds at Berkeley High’s pool.

With the win, Newman will face Archbishop Mitty of San Jose in the first round of the CIF NorCal Division III tournament in Clovis at 1:10 p.m. Friday.

“This is something these boys have put a lot of time into,” said Cardinals coach Matt McDowell, recalling numerous roadblocks that turned into strengths over the past two seasons. “You talk about a group of boys and a team overcoming so much to stay focused on a goal, to bond as brothers and do something that’s never been done in history for Newman … it’s a pretty incredible accomplishment, I think. It’s very exciting.”

With a third and final exclusion (similar to a penalty in hockey) forcing Terra Linda to sit one of their best players, Tiago Westlund, for the match’s final 30 seconds, Newman (24-3) was able to rally around goalie Nico Glasbrener to stop a last-second frenzy by the Trojans (17-8).

McDowell said Bennett Stafford, who was held scoreless for one of the few times this season, got a run toward Terra Linda’s net, forcing Westlund to foul him to avoid conceding a goal.

“It was more (Stafford) working for position and making a strong step out on (Westlund), and him having to foul Bennett to avoid scoring a goal because Bennett had worked for position and got us that opportunity,” McDowell said.

Glasbrener’s last of his 16th saves stopped a last-second attempt at sending the game into overtime.

“That was extremely intimidating,” Glasbrener said. “I was just sitting in the cage and it really came down to me because each possession of the ball is 30 seconds.

“I knew it came down to my defense to come back on D ... it comes down to me in the cage blocking the last shot,” he said. “It’s indescribable for me to describe the amount of pressure to make sure they didn’t score that last shot.”

According to Glasbrener, a defender in front of him followed the goalie’s instructions to set up Terra Linda’s desperate last-second lob shot, which helped set up the final save.

Captain Dustin Brown said the final minute was memorable.

“That last minute was a massive fight because they could have easily scored something and we could have lost it in overtime,” he said. “We had to put everything out there to make sure that didn’t happen.”

Junior Cole Peterson led Newman with three goals. Brown, Peyton Dove and Gavin Homer each had two. Peterson said he’s more of a defensive player but stepped up when Terra Linda focused on Stafford throughout the match.

“I was able to slide in and get better looks at the cage,” Peterson said.

The Cardinals claimed their first-ever championship after a trying week in which the title game was rescheduled and/or moved several times due to poor air quality.

CIF state officials said late Thursday that all games in Clovis are scheduled to go on as scheduled Friday. Should Newman beat Mitty, the Cardinals will play the winner of El Diamante of Visalia vs. Oakdale later Friday.

McDowell is eager for the team to play an opponent they haven’t seen at all. His Cardinals played three times this season.

“Sometimes I like to play teams that don’t know anything about us,” he said. “After playing Terra Linda three times, they just know us so well. So it’ll be fun to play someone we don’t know.”

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