Jacob Stuart scored a goal at the buzzer to end the first quarter giving the Yucaipa High School water polo team a 1-0 lead, helping it to a 9-4 win over Bonita in the Thunderbirds home opener last Thursday. Stuart, a junior is a returning first team All-Citrus Belt League and third team All-CIF performer, finished by scoring two more goals in the fourth quarter to fend off a late surge by Bonita. Yucaipa’s Luke Franklin led all scorers with four goals. The non-league contest was played at Crafton Hills College Aquatics Center.

YHS coach Kevin Womack stopped short of calling Stuart’s early shot the game winning goal. “It’s always important to get the first goal. It can change the whole game. It got us fired up and we followed by shooting in a few more,” said Womack. Franklin scored twice in the second quarter to give the Thunderbirds a 3-1 lead at the half. “We started picking it up after the first quarter,” said Stuart. “We began running our plays and working as a team.”

Womack said the juniors on his team have built on the momentum from winning a USA Junior Olympics division championship during the summer break. "The level of our practices has increased tremendously. The team is taking things more serious. They’re hungry for more.” Womack pointed out that goalie Mitchell Carpenter continues to amaze. Carpenter had 22 saves in the Junior Olympics title game. He totaled 18 against Bonita, who kept fastballs coming at him from a variety of angles. Most shots came from Bonita standout Cody Weber who had three goals. “Carpenter is in a league of his own,” said Womack.

Bonita’s Jason Shultenberg scored with three minutes left to make it 7-4, but Stuart and senior team captain Colby Estey’s followed with goals to secure the win. Colby’s goal off an assist from Luc Esquer, gave YHS a 5-1 lead after three quarters. Teammate Frederik Stein contributed four assists. His alley-loop pass to Franklin gave YHS a 3-1 lead. Listed at 5 feet, 11 inches, 250 pounds, Franklin is an imposing figure who uses it to his advantage. “Today, we took some bad shots early, then began hitting on all cylinders,” said Franklin. “I like to assert my dominance.”

Womack feels that it's too early to evaluate his team. He says the defense is strong enough to carry it at this point. “We can rotate players from top to bottom without losing quality. I trust anyone on our bench.” He said Stein, Tanner Childers, and Kaden Wingerd are each fighting for starting spots. Obviously, Franklin and Stuart are the “backbone to our offense.” The Thunderbirds are currently ranked No. 7 in Division 4 by Maxpreps. YHS plays only three more regular season home games, the next is Oct. 11 against Redlands East Valley.

YHS continued its winning ways by improving its record to 5-4 last weekend after playing in the competitive Ayala Tournament where it won three more games. In a 6-5 overtime win against Alta Loma, Estey scored the last of his three goals in sudden death. Carpenter stopped 18 attempts.

YHS then lost 6-5 to eventual tourney champion Santiago with Stuart leading the way with three goals.

Stuart came back later in the day to earn five goals to help the Thunderbirds to a 9-6 win against Temescal Canyon. YHS nearly pulled off an upset against Murrieta Valley before losing 8-7. Franklin scored three goals and Stuart had a goal and three assists.

The Thunderbirds closed out the nerve-wracking tourney with an 11-10 win over La Habra. Stuart had another big game with six goals. Franklin added three and Carpenter had ten saves.

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