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ALL-COUNTY WATER POLO

Cougars' Stachowski Rises to the Top of Every Pool

Capistrano Valley wasn't the best team in the county this season, but there was no better player than the Cougars' Amber Stachowski. The 6-foot senior scored 75 goals despite being double- and triple-teamed.

March 20, 2001|MICHAEL ITAGAKI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For most of last season, there wasn't much doubt which girls' water polo team was the best in Orange County. Still, highly-touted Foothill did need an overtime period to win the Southern Section Division I championship game.

And for most of the season, there wasn't much doubt who was the best player: Capistrano Valley's Amber Stachowski, the Times' Orange County player of the year.

Sure, Brittany Hayes and Gabbie Domanic racked up the goals for No. 1-ranked Foothill. Erika Figge and Kristina Kunkel teamed to help Santa Margarita reach its second consecutive section title game. And Teresa Codini also piled up the goals, helping Laguna Beach win its first section title.

But through her final high school game, Stachowski proved emphatically that she was the county's best.

Stachowski entered the 2000-01 season with glowing credentials. She is a U.S. junior national team member. She has signed to play at UCLA next season. She was a Times' first-team selection last season.

And the six-foot senior didn't do anything during the season to tarnish her reputation.

Stachowski scored 75 goals and helped the Cougars win the South Coast League championship. They also reached the Division I semifinals, where they were eliminated by Foothill.

That semifinal pitted the county's best team against a team with the county's best player.

But as good as Foothill was--the Knights won 22 consecutive games, and would win two consecutive Division I titles--it didn't have anyone who could defend Stachowski . . . by herself.

Foothill constantly double- and triple-teamed Stachowski and the strategy worked, as the Knights held her scoreless in a 7-1 Foothill win. It was Foothill's fourth win over the Cougars and the Knights were the only team on Capistrano Valley's schedule that the Cougars didn't defeat last season.

Stachowski ended her high school career on the sidelines. She was disqualified with 25 seconds left in the third quarter of that Division I semifinal, when she picked up her third ejection.

"It would have been nice for her to be able to finish her last game," Capistrano Valley Coach Jason Lynch said. "But you probably don't want to talk about that."

Although it wasn't a storybook ending to her high school career, it didn't diminish Stachowski's accomplishments.

"She's the smartest girl I've ever coached," Lynch said. "She's miles ahead of everyone. It's like she's two steps ahead of every player during a game. Right now, I think she is a collegiate player.

"I don't think she's reached her potential yet and the challenge for her now is to get to that national-team level."

Stachowski has already accomplished just about everything at the high school level.

She led her team in almost every category: goals, assists, steals, drawn ejections . . .

"You name it, she led our team in it," Lynch said. "She scored 75 goals, but she probably could have scored 100-something. But that's not the type of person she is. She's very unselfish.

"We'll miss her presence next season. Opponents automatically focus on her and she instills confidence in her teammates. It's hard to explain."

Some of the county's coaches explained it in different terms.

El Toro's Don Stoll once instructed his players to not even pass the ball to a teammate who was being defended by Stachowski.

Said Foothill co-coach Dan Klatt: "She is head and shoulders above anyone else."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Coach of the Year

Scott Taylor / Santa Margarita

Taylor blended a team that had a mix of young and experienced players and helped them overcome distractions like when their home pool at Saddleback College was shut down to come within an eyelash of winning the Southern Section Division I title this season. The Eagles won a second consecutive Serra

League title under Taylor, after winning the Division IV championship last season.

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