by Ryan MacDonald
Editor in Chief
Whatever goes on below the surface of the water is fair in this game (just as long as the players do not get caught by the referee).
But during last Wednesday’s match against the 2000 National champions Occidental Tigers, the University of La Verne women’s water polo team needed a little more than what they could muster below the surface.
In fact, the Leopards needed two regular overtimes and three sudden-death overtimes to emerge as victors. Finally, the team emerged as a champions when junior Jennifer Pacheco scored past the Occidental goalie with two minutes remaining in the final sudden death overtime.
The Leopards combined skill and team unity (even though they pulled down bathing suits, kicked other legs, and scratched any opposing team member every chance they got) to win the match.
“Occidental is one of the dirtiest teams we play. It was really bad,” Pacheco said of the recent match. “We were grabbing, kicking. It was one of the roughest games physically for us.”
The two teams battled for an excruciating 90 minutes (normal length of a game is approximately 50 minutes) before the winning goal was scored. The Leopards were able to put the game away with a crucial offensive move when Pacheco was passed the ball and scored over the Tigers goalie.
“We played one of the best games our team has ever played. We were ready for it, and we executed our plays,” Pacheco said of her team’s efforts. “Everyone was mentally ready to win.”
This victory ties the Leopards for first place in SCIAC with a record of 7-3, and with the majority of the season still remaining, this year’s squad has already improved on last year’s record by two games.
It took three quarters before things heated up, and when the Tigers failed to take advantage of their first 5-on-6 opportunity after driver Michelle Cooks was ejected, the Leopards’ goalie Maria De Santis ripped into the offensive opening.
De Santis quickly put the ball into scoring territory by passing to set Sara Kelly, and with 5:40 left in the third quarter, Kelly worked herself over the Occidental defense and placed her shot into the back of the cage, giving the Leopards a 3-2 lead.
For the next five minutes, each team failed to ignite any offensive efforts. Entering the final quarter of regular play, the Leopards lead the game by one goal. But the Tigers came out fired up in the fourth quarter when driver Kristin Wolowodiuk tied the score with 6:38 remaining.
Nearly three minutes later and after a series of offensive and defensive struggles by each team, head coach Tim Hugar called the Leopard’s final time with 2:34 left. But even after the team collected its energy, a winning goal was not scored.
So, the first of two overtimes began.
On their opening drive of the first overtime, the Tigers failed to capitalize on their momentum. So, senior Summer Hammons took advantage of this opening and, on her next possession, swam down inside of the two-meter, took control of the ball and lobbed it over the goalie’s head, putting the Leopards up by one goal, 4-3.
The offensive drive continued one minute later when Pacheco passed the ball inside to senior Tandis Morgan, who blasted the ball past the Tigers goalie, giving the Leopards a two-point lead with one minute remaining. The Tigers rallied back, however, in the second overtime when they scored two crucial goals and tied the game at 5 goals each.
But during the first and second sudden death overtimes, neither team scored. Each team matched defensive and offensive moves, allowing little room for error. But with a little more than two minutes to play, the Leopards surged an offensive opening and passed the ball to Pacheco to end the game.
This game was one of the best the team has ever played and because the team’s depth this year, victories are becoming easier, said Pacheco. “This year we have a strong bench, and we have the experience we need to pull off the big games,” she said.
The Leopards will face the No. 1 nationally ranked University of Redlands Bulldogs at 11 a.m. tomorrow at Redlands.
Pacheco added if her team beats the Bulldogs, they will be in strong contention for the rest of the year. “If we beat Redlands, it will put us right up there to win.”