by Nate Silva
Unexpected breaks and extremely tight competition brought the University of La Verne women’s water polo season to a premature end this past weekend.
The SCIAC tournament would pit all six teams against each other in round-robin play covering the three-day weekend. La Verne entered the tournament ranked second with a 4-1 conference record, 16-4 overall.
ULV also had the advantage of hosting the tournament in their own pool.
The home crowd of faithful family and friends would see the young program be defeated in all but one of its five games.
The lone win came against the sixth-ranked Whittier Poets in Saturday’s first game.
Both the offense and defense held strong for La Verne in the victory, winning by a score of 8-2.
ULV looked to be turning things around following two first day losses coming at the hands of No. 5 Claremont, and No. 3 Occidental.
La Verne had beaten both of these teams earlier in the year.
Against Whittier, La Verne spread their offense around with Gabi Bahlo scoring three goals for the Leopards’ Tandis Morgan adding two, and Jen Pacheco, Sara Kelly and Renee Moyer each contributing one goal in the win.
La Verne was unable to carry that momentum into its evening match against Pomona-Pitzer, in what most would consider the deciding game in La Verne’s season.
Beating Pomona for the second time this year would solidify La Verne’s ticket to the national championships, but a loss would greatly reduce the team’s chances of going.
The No. 4 Sagehens would stake their claim in the national scene by upsetting the Leopards, 6-4.
La Verne got out to a quick lead, scoring two goals in the first quarter, but Pomona would come back in the second to make it a one-goal lead for the Leopards.
ULV had another opportunity to convert in the second, when Pomona goalie, Morgan Sokolow was ejected for a play.
The Leopard offense could not find the cage, and the half would end with La Verne still leading 2-1.
Sokolow’s aggressive play would disrupt the ULV offense as she would often come out of the cage to pressure junior utility player Jen Pacheco with a double team.
The Sagehens came back fighting after the break, taking a one-goal advantage, but Morgan would tie the game at three.
Quick clockwork gave the Sagehens their second lead of the game with 16 seconds left in the third, but just 21 seconds into the final quarter La Verne would knot the score at 4.
The rest of the game would belong to Pomona though, as they would shut down La Verne’s offense and add two more goals to beat the Leopards 6-4.
“All the games were really close all year; all the teams are very close,” said head coach Tim Hugar.
La Verne finishes their regular season splitting their series with four of their five SCIAC foes.
Hugar said breaks just went the other way for the Leopards this weekend. “Goals that barely went in for us before didn’t go in for us today.”
La Verne had the opportunity to bounce back on Sunday with an upset of their own as they faced the Redlands Bulldogs, the No. 1 ranked team.
In stark contrast from the first two overcast days of play, the sun shone on the ULV swimming complex. Just as bright was the performance of ULV senior Tandis Morgan, playing in her final game.
Morgan, along with fellow seniors Summer Hammons, Maria De Santis, and Andrea Griffith were acknowledged before the game, as they are the first class to compete in ULV’s women’s water polo program for the past four years.
In the pool, Redlands struck first, but with 1:50 left in the first quarter Morgan capitalized on a 4-meter free shot, to tie the game at one apiece.
The top-ranked Bulldogs would overpower the Leopards for the next two quarters, scoring five unanswered goals, and taking a 6-1 lead.
Morgan took over the game in the fourth quarter, but the five-goal deficit was too much to overcome.
Just 12 seconds into the final quarter, off the ULV controlled sprint, Morgan slipped her second goal of the game past the Bulldog goalie. With 3:30 left in the game, Morgan would do it again.
Redlands, coming out of a time out with a man advantage would score on De Santis one more time to make the score 7-3.
Morgan though was not done.
Just two minutes after her last goal, she would put the exclamation mark on an extremely solid career, with her fourth goal of the game.
Unlike the Leopards’ offense, the Bulldogs used may weapons to come away with the win.
Five Bulldogs would score, with Kate Meyers and Sarah Rosenberger notching two goals apiece.
Though the first full class of ULV women’s water polo leaves La Verne on a sour note, the careers of these four women have built quite a program and have a great deal to be proud of.
“They’ve just improved tremendously. They built a great foundation in four years,” Hugar said.
Griffith, De Santis, Hammons and Morgan agree with Hugar when he said, “(Four years) sounds like a long time, but it’s really not.”
Their work and determination drove the Leopards past success and onto prominence that peaked with a much deserved No. 2 national ranking.