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Conway's Toughness Is Not to Be Questioned

March 13, 2004|Lauren Peterson | Times Staff Writer

From the introductions of the Newport Harbor girls' water polo players, who stood poolside in their navy-and-white robes, to the last penalty shot, converted with 5.6 seconds left, the match had the earmarks of a heavyweight prizefight.

Carolyn Conway's dislocated jaw and the Southern Section Division I title she and her teammates earned with a 10-8 victory over four-time defending-champion Santa Ana Foothill were among them.

"It was so worth it," Conway said two days later. "We won. Sometimes I had to keep reminding myself of that. Whenever I was sitting in doctors' offices, and I just wanted to run away, I said, 'It's OK. We won, and that's the important thing.' "

The Sailors earned their second title with a team effort, but it was a bruised and battered Conway who effectively delivered the knockout punch with her fifth goal, which gave Newport Harbor (27-3) a 9-6 lead over Foothill (27-4) with 4:28 to play.

"This is amazing," Conway said immediately afterward, as she gingerly fingered her right lower jaw, dislocated with just under 2 1/2 minutes left by an elbow to the face from Jillian Kraus, who was ejected for 20 seconds. "There's no better feeling than winning that title."

Conway finished the season with a team-high 87 goals after playing in the championship game despite a broken nose suffered in a 10-6 semifinal victory over Long Beach Wilson. The Times has selected Conway the girls' water polo player of the year for her efforts.

"I feel proud," said Conway, who will play at Indiana next season. "I'm really proud of everybody, though. It was pretty much the ultimate way to finish off the season."

The Sailors believed all along they had the talent to win a championship. After losing in the Division I semifinals in 2003, however, they realized that actually doing it was another matter.

"We all knew it was reachable, but we didn't want to focus just on the CIF championship because that's kind of what we did last year, and then we felt silly because we didn't even get there," Conway said.

A significant step in that direction was the Sailors' 10-9 overtime victory over Foothill in a Sea View League game Jan. 14, when Conway scored four goals and Newport Harbor ended a 49-game winning streak by the Knights.

"That was one of the biggest turning points," Conway said. "It kind of opened our eyes, and opened other people's eyes."

The Sailors topped the Knights again by a 9-5 margin in the Santa Barbara tournament semifinals a few days later, but Foothill got the last word during the regular season, winning the teams' third meeting, 7-6, in the semifinals of the Ivine/Southern California Championships.

With the stage set for the playoffs, Conway's parents and other spectators cringed each time the ball or a defender went near Conway. But the Sailors' two-meter standout pushed pain and fear of more serious injuries further from her mind with each spin and backhanded shot from the hole.

"I was just so much in a zone that I kind of put that behind me," she said.

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