Sometimes, a challenge is just what a team needs to get into gear. Last weekend, the Sagehens men’s water polo team (2-4, 0-0 SCIAC) won two games and lost two at the Inland Empire Classic tournament. Over the weekend of Sept. 10-11, the team conquered Concordia University and University of La Verne (1-5, 0-0 SCIAC) but suffered losses to the University of Redlands (2-6, 0-0 SCIAC) and University of California, Irvine (3-2, 0-0 GCC).
It happens to be the loss to UC Irvine of which both team members and coaches alike were most proud. The UCI team ranks in the top ten Division I schools in the country and trains year-round. While the Sagehens lost 9-7, “We played a good high-level game,” commented Head Coach Alex Rodriguez. “I was really happy that we were able to control the ball and not give up easy scoring opportunities. I was also happy that we didn’t give up.”
The Anteaters went out to a 2-0 lead early on, but the Sagehens were quick to respond with two goals of their own. UCI responded with another pair of goals to end the first quarter, but the Sagehens were able to match them point-for-point for the remainder of the half. With just under two minutes to go in the third quarter, the teams were tied. However, UCI was able to score once more at the end of the third and once in the beginning of the fourth.
“Normally, our program would be tired by the fourth game in a long weekend and play down a level, but this time we did the opposite,” James Baker PO ’17 said. “We stepped up and played them a lot closer than other teams have so far this season.” Baker himself scored 11 goals over the weekend—no small venture considering UCI’s goalie Matej Matijevic was named Golden Coast Player of the week, following the tournament.
Naturally, games early in the season come with the added challenge of learning or re-learning the Sagehen program.
“We have a totally different team this year with eight or nine new freshmen,” Baker said. “I think learning how to play together as a team and adapting to the new dynamics and players is something we’re going to have to get used to. We did a good job progressing with every game this weekend.”
“Getting to know each other as a team this weekend was our biggest challenge,” Coach Rodriguez added. “I think the team is going to really develop and I am excited about our potential.” Baker agreed that he is “excited to keep developing as a team, and hopefully the winning will take care of itself.”
Both Rodriguez and Baker would like to urge Sagehen fans to come out to the Gary Troyer Tournament at Axelrood Pool, Sept. 7-8.