The La Verne men’s water polo team fell 26-1 to the University of Southern California Trojans during their final match of the Inland Empire Classic Sunday at La Verne Aquatics Center.
The Leopards were discontent with the scoreboard results, but walked away with valuable experience to prepare them for another run at the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference title in late November.
“I see good things in conference, definitely much better than last year,” head coach Mason Cox said. “We finished on a bad note last year placing seventh, so I see us finishing higher then seventh.”
The Trojans came out the gate with a fierce pace, constantly forcing the Leopards to defend from deep inside their own end of the court. After feeling each other out the first quarter, La Verne began to settle in and push the tempo, creating shots that they did not see in the first period.
The only score of the game for the Leopards came in the sixth minute of the second period by junior utility Rey Castillo.
Sophomore goalkeeper Ian Hernandez handled the brunt of defending duties for the Leopards, making seven saves during the game. Although Hernandez was tested relentlessly the entire match, he said the pre-conference match-up helped build chemistry among the youthful Leopards squad.
“Going back to day one we were lost,” Hernandez said. “We’re slowly pulling it together during our practices, and practice is going to be key moving forward.”
Junior driver Joshua Vega also contributed quality minutes and court leadership, and said he not only saw promise in the group of underclassmen, but felt the team is surely getting to where they need to be.
“Last year we had eight seniors on the team so we’ve definitely lost some leadership,” Vega said. “But this year we’re looking for returners to step up and young guys to come in and help out.”
“Our goal this year is to come out every game playing hard and contend with everyone. This tournament was a little tough, but we’re going to be alright,” he said.
After a grueling battle with the Trojans, Cox was pleased to see the strides his team was making, and said they are setting a solid foundation for the upcoming conference plays.
“It’s going to be a fight, but as long as I see improvement from game to game we’re going to be OK,” Cox said.
Before facing USC, La Verne faced a gauntlet of top teams including Long Beach State, Pepperdine and Pomona-Pitzer. They were defeated in all three 22-2, 18-4 and 16-7, respectively.
The Leopards continue their regular season schedule facing the Loyola Marymount Lions at noon Oct. 1 at Loyola Marymount.
Jacob Whannel can be reached at email@example.com.