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Santa Maria's Carina Nevarez scores against Pioneer Valley.

Len Wood, Staff

The stands were packed for Wednesday’s girls water polo match at Santa Maria High School.

That’s unusual but great to see.

I’ve been to a lot of water polo matches and tournaments over the past two decades on the Central Coast and when schools host tournaments, the stands are often filled.

After all, there are typically four games, back-to-back-to-back-to-back, and if they involve local schools, it’s not a long ride over to Pioneer Valley, Santa Maria or Righetti.

And since the games go quickly, a tournament is a great way to spend the day.

But it is unusual to see such a large crowd for an early-season match — even if it did involve city rivals Santa Maria and Pioneer Valley.

“I’m really impressed with the crowd,” Santa Maria head coach Josh Troeger said to me after the Saints 12-0 victory. “It’s been like that since our first game.”

There were easily more than 200 people packing the three bleachers.

They were loud and totally supportive.

They leaned toward Santa Maria but they cheered on the Pioneer Valley kids as well.

It’s one thing to see 2,000 people or more at a local high school football game, especially the Saints’ Division 12 championship game against Big Bear, or several hundred packing the gyms at local high school basketball games.

But this is water polo.

Most of the early season games that I’ve covered over the years have 10 or 20 fans, mostly parents and friends.

Two-hundred or more is rare.

“I think what’s really helped is the push at Santa Maria High for sports. The administration and athletic department has pushed participation in sports over the past few years,” said Troeger. “When you create a culture that says sports are important, then good things will happen. I have 25 freshmen that came out for the girls team this year. If they stay together, when they are seniors we will have an awesome team.”

You can see the results in the Saints highly successful football and baseball teams.

But the improvement at Santa Maria High is everywhere, across the board.

I think it’s great to see.

I like all the sports, especially at the high school level where the kids are competing to win bragging rights over their friends from other local schools, maybe a shot at a college scholarship and because they think playing is just good, old-fashioned fun.

Personally, water polo — boys and girls — and 8-man football are my two favorite high school sports.

It’s great to see the parents, friends and fans fill the stands in support of their favorite local teams.

By the way, you are invited to go to the games, too, even if you don’t have any children in the game.

Admission to some of the games is free and for others, the cost is minimal.

We publish the local Central Coast calendar daily in the Santa Maria Times so it’s easy for anyone to see what games are coming up.

We’re in the winter season, so the schools are competing in boys and girls basketball, boys and girls soccer, boys and girls wrestling and girls water polo.

So check out our calendar and then check out some great high school athletic action.

Join the crowd and cheer on our local teams  but, if you’re planning to attend a Santa Maria girls water polo match, then you might want to get there early enough to find a good seat.

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Senior Sports Reporter