Following a difficult loss to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps last week, the men’s water polo team dominated the competition at the Gary Troyer Invitational with a 3-1 record on the weekend.
The Leopards defeated Connecticut College 16-9, Iona College, 8-5, and Penn State-Behrend, 19-10.
La Verne’s only loss was a close game against Navy, 13-10.
“Before the tournament we talked about how we wanted to come out dominant and show the other teams who we are and how hard we worked,” freshman attacker Christian Gonzales said.
The Gary Troyer Invitational, which ULV co-hosted at the La Verne Aquatic Center, was the third tournament the men’s water polo team has participated in this season and also featured the team’s best overall performance.
Many players cite the tournaments as giving them the experience needed to play better as a team.
“The more you play, the more opportunities you have to improve and get better,” junior defender Rex Sample said.
“As a freshman I got to play against USC – that’s crazy. We got to play all the best teams in Southern California,” Gonzalez said. “It’s a really great experience because it teaches you a lot.”
The win over Penn State-Behrend was the team’s highest scoring game of the season and also the most action packed.
ULV started the game from behind after giving up two quick goals.
Sample was able to put away two goals of his own to even up the score, then junior attacker Joey Sabers scored to give La Verne the lead, 3-2.
However, the Lions did not make the first quarter easy, and were able to endure the Leopards’ early pressure and keep the score close.
But in the final moments of the quarter senior center Domenic D’Andrea nailed a penalty shot to give the Leopards the lead, 4-3.
ULV went straight to work in the second quarter scoring two goals in the first minute, junior captain Chucky Ortega scored off of a perfect pass from Sample and junior utility Wesley Hovanesian nailed a deep shot to extend their lead 6-3.
The Leopard offense continued its assault throughout the quarter, with freshman center Michael Staine scoring off of a broken play and Sabers scoring after an interception from freshman utility Jason Soo Hoo.
Luckily for the Lions they were able to stop the bleeding and answered with two goals, bringing the score to 8-5 at halftime.
Once again the Leopards started the third quarter with heavy aggression, constantly pushing through the Lion defense and taking multiple shots on goal.
Eventually senior attacker Jason Russum scored when he broke past the Penn State defenders, placing his shot in the top left of the net just out of the keeper’s reach.
ULV maintained its potent attack throughout the quarter, with Russum, junior attacker Evan Monterroso and sophomore attacker Danilo Lugli all scoring.
La Verne’s offense proved to be unrelenting, as the team maintained constant pressure and seemed in control of the game.
Gonzalez fired a shot from up close, but the goalie blocked it. However freshman attacker Myles Storms followed up the shot and tipped the ball in, giving La Verne a 13-5 lead, without giving up any goals to close out the third.
“I’ve played some of these teams in previous years so I knew what the competition was gonna be like going into the tournament,” Sabers said. “We’re never scared to take on an opponent.”
Coming into the fourth quarter the Leopards’ defense looked shaky, with multiple defensive breakdowns resulting in Penn State scoring the first goal of the quarter.
Although the Leopard defense began to falter, the offense kept pace.
The Leopards traded the goal back with D’Andrea and sophomore attacker Dario Mariani teaming up to score the team’s 14th goal of the morning.
Both teams continued trading goals – with La Verne’s goals coming from Staine, Sabers, Soo Hoo and freshman defender Ryan Lehotsky – but it was too little too late for the Lions.
The Leopards’ lead proved to be insurmountable, ending the game 19-10.
“We came together pretty quickly, considering this past week against CMS where we weren’t executing as well… And to turn it around this week and have the weekend we had was awesome,” D’Andrea said.
Twelve of La Verne’s players scored against Penn State-Behrend with Sabers and Staine both finishing with hat tricks.
Although the results of the tournament have no impact on the team’s Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings, the players are feeling confident having shown that they can compete with the best.
“Finally being able to execute feels so much better because I felt like we were getting so close and we just had to come together once and we’d know what that feels like,” Sabers said. “Now we do.”
The Leopards are 6-13 overall and 2-3 in SCIAC.
They now look poised heading into their road game at 11 a.m. Saturday, against SCIAC rival Occidental, who is 10-7 overall but 0-5 in SCIAC play.
“We want to make a statement and show what we can do,” Gonzalez said.
Joey Matsuzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.