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The men’s water polo team splashed into action for the first time at home this season, hosting the Inland Empire Classic Saturday and Sunday at the La Verne Aquatics Center.
In the first game of the day two of the classic, the team faced a tough and eye opening loss to No. 2 University of Southern California, 23-2, Sunday.
The Trojans are ranked No. 2 in the nation and went undefeated, 4-0, in the classic.
“It’s always good for our guys to get into the pool and face the best in the country because it’s a good opportunity for them to measure themselves and see where they’re at,” head coach William Rodriguez said.
The Trojans proved to be a powerhouse, dominating the game early.
USC sophomore driver Matteo Morelli pushed past La Verne senior defender Viken Huening and scored the first goal of the game, 1-0.
The Trojans quickly took a 5-0 lead over the Leopards.
With less than three minutes left in the first quarter, La Verne’s defense did not click, and USC scored four more times, closing the quarter with a 9-0 lead.
“We were trying to minimize how many they were able to put away and trying to capitalize on counter defense, transition defense, and they were still able to put them away,” Huening said.
With 5:28 on the clock and a 6-on-5 opportunity for USC, senior defender Mac Carden scored past freshman goalkeeper Ian Hernandez, 10-0.
The Leopards were unable to hold the Trojans offense, allowing them to score three more goals, heading into the half.
With a 13-0 lead in the third quarter, the Trojans were in control of the game.
The Leopards managed to avoid the shut out, as junior driver Jared Hopley scored, with the assist of Huening.
“It felt pretty good for me personally, because the USC goalie is the backup goalie for the U.S. men’s Olympic water polo team, so it was pretty cool,” Hopley said.
This was Hopley’s 11th goal of the season.
“It feels good for me personally, but just because I have the most goals, it does not necessarily mean I’m the best player,” Hopley said. “It shows that we work together really well. More team work, more goals.”
The Trojans answered back with four goals, 17-1, pushing their lead even further.
Heading into the final quarter of the game, the Leopards continued to push their defense, hoping to shake the Trojans.
Halfway through the fourth quarter, USC was up, 19-1, until La Verne senior defender Troy Williams found the back of the net with the assist of senior attacker Ryan Batchelor, 19-2. The Trojans answered back four more times, sealing the win, 23-2.
“Personally, anyone who’s been with me since freshman year, we’ve grown for four years together and this is our third time playing them and it’s what we expected,” Huening said. “The big thing from this is that there’s a lot to learn with teams like this, especially being one of the best teams in the program.”
Later that day, the Leopards defeated the Occidental Tigers, a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference rival, 12-6, in the final game of the classic.
“It feels good to get a win against one of our conference rivals and always good to win at home,” Rodriguez said.
To start the game, both teams went back-and-forth, exchanging points.
“We had a lot of offensive opportunities that we didn’t put away,” Rodriguez said. “We got to work a little bit on our shooting and that was one of our fortes last year, but I think it’s because it’s still early in the season and we’re just not shooting a higher percentage right now.”
The Leopards made a 3-0 run over the Tigers before the half, finding some leverage.
Huening, Batchelor and junior driver Chad Castro each scored, extending the lead, 7-3.
The Leopards continued to score, as they took a 10-6 lead into the final quarter.
The team managed to shut out Occidental in the fourth, sealing the win.
Sophomore driver Josh Vega led the team with five goals.
In day one, the Leopards dropped their home opener to Cal Baptist, 15-10, but came back to defeat Concordia, 8-6, Saturday at the La Verne Aquatics Center.
“Concordia is a team we played multiple times and that was the first time we’ve ever beat them, so it’s just a testament to the progress we’ve made as a program, so that felt really good,” Huening said.
The Leopards finished the Inland Empire Classic, 2-2.
The team also defeated Citrus College, 11-7, Wednesday at the La Verne Aquatics Center.
After being tied, 5-5, going into halftime, the Leopards managed to take the lead and take the win.
The team now has a 4-3 record overall. La Verne will have a long break before hitting the pool once again, and will face Fordham at noon Oct. 1 at the La Verne Aquatics Center.
Jolene Nacapuy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.