With a thriving dental practice, Leif Nordstrom has performed his fair share of root canals over the years.
But the Hollister High boys water polo coach must have felt like he was undergoing the painful procedure as the Haybalers seemingly were on their way to defeat after building a three-goal lead in the first quarter of their non-league match against Harbor on Sept. 8.
But Hollister’s temporary angst turned into jubilation after it roared back with a dominating fourth quarter to post a 10-8 victory at its home pool. The Haybalers trailed 8-5 with six minutes remaining when it went on a game-ending 5-0 run.
Nordstrom chalked up the team’s comeback to tough defense in the final period.
“We played really smart defense which led to fast break points,” he said. “It was pretty awesome to watch all that unfold.”
Hollister had a highly unusual scoring by quarter stat line, tallying five goals in the first and fourth quarters with a couple of scoreless periods sandwiched in between.
“We had our five starters in and things were rolling really well,” Nordstrom said. “As we transitioned into trying to get everyone a chance to get into the game, I think we lost our rhythm a little bit. Even the starters kind of lost what our game plan was as far as passing and spacing. We’re a young team so everyone needs a chance to learn and play. It’s a good thing.”
The Balers led 5-2 after the opening quarter before Harbor scored six consecutive goals to take a 8-5 lead. That’s when Hollister got to work. Isaac Nordstrom started the game-ending surge with a goal with 4:53 left, and 32 seconds later Justin Blankenship scored from 7 meters out, a far shot that seemed to demoralize Harbor.
Fifteen seconds later, Nordstrom created a steal which eventually led to a penalty shot. Smith connected on an unstoppable skip shot to level things at 8-8 with 4:06 to go. Nordstrom was at it again on the team’s next goal, scoring from six meters away.
He smartly used all of the arms that were up as screens as the ball sailed past the Harbor goalie. In the next minute, Blankenship and Spencer Arrington made tremendous defensive plays to thwart potential Harbor goals, and Taylor Smith sealed the deal with a goal from two meters off a nice pass from Blankenship with 18 seconds left.
Smith had five goals and Nordstrom three to lead the way offensively. Smith was the team’s leading goal scorer last year and barring an injury will likely finish at the top again. Smith is able to rise out of the pool and possesses a strong shot to go along with an understanding of the game.
“What Taylor has is incredible awareness,” Leif Nordstrom said. “The first two goals (in the first quarter), he threw from about six meters out. He saw the goalie looking away and took advantage of that.”
Isaac Nordstrom, the coach’s son, has also shined.
“Isaac is a really smart player and a strong hole-set,” Leif said. “Once he figured out what kind of game the ref was calling, he was able to dominate.”
Goalie Brandon Low made several big stops, especially in the second and third quarters when Harbor was threatening to pull away. Low is in his first year playing the position but excelling.
“Brandon did really well and is getting stronger everyday,” Nordstrom said. “He just barely learned how to tread water, but he’s real long and coming into his own and learning the instincts of being a goalie in water polo, which is nice.”
If Low continues to play well, that will allow senior Zach Watt—who missed the Harbor game—to play in the field. Watt is one of the team’s captains and top players. He’s solid in the cage, but Nordstrom said Watt likes to play in the field which also makes the team a bit stronger.
Nordstrom raved about Arrington’s impressive defensive play lately.
“He had a great goal early on and an incredible steal at the end,” Nordstrom said. “Spencer being able to control that ball was fantastic.”
Nordstrom also praised Blankenship’s play and hopes it will be a harbinger.
“Justin is better than I think he believes he is,” Nordstrom said. “That was a great goal he scored and hopefully a good confidence booster for him to realize that he can be one of the dominant players on our team.”
For the first time in recent memory, Hollister’s participation numbers are up—way up. With 14 kids on the varsity roster and 16 on the junior varsity, the Balers have their largest team ever, according to Nordstrom.
“This is the biggest boys team in school history,” he said. “We’re a young team, we’re a big team, and hopefully we get stronger.”
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected]