Coaches never know how a team will respond to a late-season injury.
The group may feel sorry for itself and mail in the final portion of the season or unite in the face of adversity, finding a way to compensate for the loss.
So when the Merced College men's water polo team lost leading scorer and captain Matt Rabe to a broken hand in the final week of the regular season, head coach Scott McCall was somewhat concerned the other shoe would drop.
Instead, the Blue Devils responded with what McCall called their best polo of the season.
"It was a tough situation," McCall said. "Matt was our leading scorer. He was up there in assists and steals as well.
"He pretty much did everything for us.
"The other guys really responded.
"To get into NorCals we needed a convincing win over Cabrillo and for some upsets to happen in the other conference tournament.
"It all ended up happening for us."
MC (12-14) took second place in the Coast Conference after falling to state-ranked No. 1 West Valley in the title game.
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The Blue Devils' reward was the sixth and final seed in the NorCal tournament and a first-round matchup with No. 3 Modesto Junior College (18-5).
The two teams met three times on the season, with MJC winning all three encounters.
The action starts at American River College today at 2:30 p.m.
"They play great defense and have a really good goalie, so we haven't scored a lot against them," McCall said. "We've worked on having a lot of movement in our offense to open some chances up."
The MC women's water polo team will also have its hands full, opening the NorCal tournament against sixth-seeded Fresno City College at 11:30 a.m.
The Rams (9-10) tied for second in the Big 8 during the regular season, but fell to No. 6 after being upset in the conference tournament.
"Fresno's game is physical water polo, which we struggled with that against Foothill in the conference tournament," women's coach Bill Halpin said. "We're going to rotate different players into the hole set to try and keep everyone fresh."
Included in that group will be All-American Rebekah Dawn (109 goals), who is eight goals shy of tying MC's single-season record.
A win would guarantee the Lady Devils two more games Saturday, giving Dawn a chance at the record and setting up a second-round match with rival Foothill.
This story was originally published November 12, 2010 2:30 AM.