The seniors on the Xavier Prep boys' water polo team have had a lot of success in their careers, plenty of victories, deep playoff runs, but something was missing.
They found it Wednesday -- A league title.
The Saints outlasted La Quinta 12-10 at the Cathedral City High School pool for the first ever Desert Empire League title, and in the process ended the Blackhawks' three-year run of league titles.
It was the second ever league title for the Saints, who also won the DVL in 2014, ironically also with a 12-10 victory, that time over Palm Desert.
When this one ended, the players formed a happy circle in front of the goal. Instead of the traditional coach-gets-thrown-in-the-pool celebratory moment, several members of the Saints cheering section jumped in the pool to celebrate. Coach Pavol Valovic was perfectly happy to stay dry and get hugs from his young children.
"They just got kinda tired of being second," Valovic said. "And we talked about it at the beginning of the season. We said 'This is your time.' And they recognized that this is their opportunity and they worked for it and they did it. I'm extremely happy for them."
Declan Cooper, Xavier Prep: The senior finished with four goals, but scored the final two goals of the game after La Quinta had tied it at 10-10, one with power and one with a soft touch.
Colin Dervieux, Xavier Prep: Dervieux, another senior, scored three goals on the night, all in a row and all at crucial times. He scored the last goal of the first half to give the Saints a 6-4 lead. Then, when La Quinta exploded for three quick goals in the third to take a 7-6 lead, it was Derviuex scoring twice in a row quickly to give the Saints back the lead. They never trailed again.
Brayden Smith, La Quinta: The Blackhawks' star scored three goals despite being the subject of almost constant double-teams whenever he was in scoring position. On other occasions he would lure the double team away to open up lanes for his teammates which led to goals.
Ryan Ivy, La Quinta: Ivy scored three goals for the Blackhawks, taking advantage of the opportunities he had. He scored La Quinta's only two second-period goals and added one in the third.
Rest of the Saints seniors: Kyle Cenicola who scored twice, Brandon Sontz who scored the game's first goal, Jackson Castillo, Robert Evans and goalkeeper Justin Wickstrand. This group has been together and coveting this league title. Seniors were responsible for 10 of the 12 goals and all the saves. Their hard work has been leading to this.
La Quinta, after some sort of successful halftime speech by coach Cal Lowell, came out on fire in the third quarter, score three quick ones on goals by Jacob Spurgin, Ivy and Adam Jacobson to take a 7-6 lead. The game was slipping away, and this was that moment that happens in most championship games, are you going to fold under the pressure or answer the bell. They answered. Dervieux scored to tie it, then a La Quinta defensive miscommunication left Derviuex unguarded for an easy goal to give the Saints an 8-7 lead. Dylan Van Meeteren scored on a long laser shot to make it 9-7 and the Saints had regained control.
Kyle Cenicola, Xavier Prep: "It means the world to us right now. We trained so hard for this, we woke up so many times at five in the morning every week, we know the hard work and togetherness that went into this, and none of it could have happened without each other."
Pavol Valovic, Xavier coach: "They've been working so hard and they've come in second so many times, both in league and in CIF, and finally they were able to overcome all the obstacles. And it certainly wasn't given to us, we had to earn it. Hat's off to La Quinta."
Jackson Castillo, Xavier Prep: "It feels surreal, it's something we've been talking about since the offseason. We wanted to win DEL and for it to come true. It's a great feeling. Last year we came really close and I think we had a stronger team this year. Great team. Great chemistry and I think it showed."
Both teams will be heading to the postseason and will learn their destination when the CIF-SS pairings are released Saturday. Palm Desert, which won a rousing double overtime 10-9 game over Palm Springs for third place, will also join them. And the Indians should be in as well.