The women’s water polo team is preparing to return to the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament Friday.
Interim co-head coach Erika Vargas said the team is motivated to avenge last year’s sour finish, when the team finished fifth.
“I knew they were going to do great because of their energy and drive,” Vargas said.
She added that freshman goalkeeper Jordan Ehara has been a standout and credited her with keeping a game close against conference rival Pomona-Pitzer in March.
Junior center Jasmine Bustamante, Vargas said, also deserves a lot of credit for the team’s success.
“She’s a big threat,” Vargas said. “Teams drop on her when she has the ball and she puts it away.”
Both Vargas and interim co-head coach Mason Cox said senior center Megan Little, the team’s only four-year player, has been one of the Leopards’ best individual performers this year.
Vargas added that Little was around when the team was struggling to win games and trips to the SCIAC tournament were the last thing on the team’s mind.
“Through these four years, I think I’m playing my best water polo right now,” Little said.
She has 13 goals this season and four of the top six scorers in the conference are Leopards.
Bustamante is second in the conference with 16 goals.
Even with the top scorers on the roster for La Verne, Cox said the strength for the team this year has been their defense, which he said has been one of the best in the conference.
“I went into this season knowing what we needed to do better,” Cox said. “Defense wins championships. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true.”
Strong defense was one of the reasons why La Verne beat Division II Azusa Pacific twice in early March, which Cox said were huge victories for the team.
The Leopards will open the SCIAC tournament against Chapman, who they beat on the road, 14-10, earlier this season.
“They know it’s not going to be a rollover game,” Vargas said. “They have some good shooters.”
A win in the first round would give La Verne another shot at Pomona-Pitzer, who won a tight contest March 29, 5-4.
The Leopards will face off against Chapman at 12:30 p.m. Friday at the La Verne Aquatic Center in Las Flores Park.
Christopher McMahan can be reached at email@example.com.