After an underwhelming season last year, the men’s water polo team seems ready to start fresh with a largely new 22-man roster.
However, the new-look Leopards fell to Whittier on Wednesday, 17-11.
Head coach Pat Beamer said he is excited about the new recruits.
“We have a pretty new squad. We brought in a bunch of new guys and I’m really excited about them,” Beamer said. “The culture and mindset of our program has shifted. This is a new energized squad and they grind and they work hard and are motivated to succeed.”
Last year’s team was comprised of 14 players, barely large enough to sustain subs and only a fraction of its current 22-man roster.
With the added depth, many more players have been able to step up.
“Last year there were three or four individuals we could rely on, whereas this year there’s 22 of us. It’s a whole team effort,” junior center defender Rex Sample said.
Entering his second year with the team, Beamer is the first coach in four years to stay longer than one season.
“Every other year we’ve had one coach per season, so [Beamer] has had time to build a team and we have a much deeper bench this year,” senior attacker and captain Domenic D’Andrea said.
Following a 7-4 win in their Saturday home opener against Cal Lutheran, the team was hungry to take the win against Whittier on Wednesday.
La Verne drew first blood, with D’Andrea opening up scoring early with a goal in the first quarter.
Though Whittier was quick to answer with three goals of its own.
But senior attacker Jason Russum’s late score in the first quarter kept the Leopards within striking distance, ending the quarter down 4-2. La Verne scored first once again to open the second quarter, this time on a shot by junior utility Charles Ortega.
Both teams traded goals throughout the quarter, highlighted by goals from Sample and freshman goalkeeper Ryan Lehotsky. But Whittier was able to extend its lead to 11-5 by halftime.
“The constant momentum changes killed us,” Sample said.“We can’t be trading goals.”
Despite their difficulties on defense in the first half, the Leopards rallied and were able to make the correct adjustments in the third quarter.
“Our biggest strength is our depth and spirit,” D’Andrea said. “Before, our team would break down on the bench and get mad. This year we’re a lot more supportive and if we get in a hole we’ll get ourselves out.”
La Verne’s defense held strong in the third quarter, allowing the Poets only a single goal.
The Leopards added two of their own, scored by Sample and freshman attacker Myles Storms, ending the quarter with a score of 12-7 in favor of Whittier.
La Verne started the fourth quarter aggressively, with freshman center Michael Staine scoring back-to-back goals.
Russum added another goal, but the Leopards’ rally was not enough to overcome their deficit from the first half.
D’Andrea scored the last goal of the game, making the final score of 17-11 for Whittier. Despite the loss, Beamer finds solace in knowing what they need to work on.
“We turned the ball over 22 times,” Beamer said. “Moreover we had a lot of unforced turnovers, which is inexcusable. I told them – and I firmly believe this – if we don’t turn the ball over 22 times, we win that game.”
“Whittier is good, make no mistake, but it turns out we’re pretty good too, we just hung 11 on them where we were very suspect defensively and in transitions,” Beamer said.
Although they lost, the young team is still excited to see what they can accomplish with their larger roster as the team catches glimpses of their potential.
“Those kids fought the entire time and there’s no quit in all of them,” Beamer said. “It’s heartening.”
The team currently has a 1-2 record in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, and 2-9 overall.
The Leopards will compete in the Lancer Invitational in Riverside on Friday, facing USC at 1:20 p.m. and Mercyhurst at 4 p.m.
La Verne then returns to SCIAC play, hosting Caltech at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Joey Matsuzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.