The women’s water polo team came out on top after four quarters of battle, defeating Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in a big 9-8 road win Saturday at the Axelrod Aquatics Center.
The win put the Leopards in a great position heading into the final weeks of Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference games.
The Athenas were the first on the board early in the second quarter.
The Leopards responded with a three-point run to make it 3-1 in the middle of the second quarter.
The game went back and forth for the remaining two and a half quarters, but the Leopards were able to fight off the Athenas through multiple defensive positions.
“The team mentality was to come out strong and play really good defense. Last time we did go into overtime,” sophomore attacker Jassmine Kezman said.
Kezman finished the game with a pair of goals, which came off La Verne’s penalty shots.
Senior attacker Guarina Garcia led the Leopards on both sides of the pool with three goals and four steals.
“One of the things was finally figuring out, was the goalie was baiting us to shot cross cage, and finding that shot and shooting down the line,” Garcia said. “Also producing a lot of ejections and those two penalties for Kezman.”
The Leopards’ ability to control the ball on offense and prevent the Athenas from going on a two goal switch after a big stop kept the game in the Leopards’ paws.
“We played great organized defense and would have a mental lapse to then get blown up,” head coach Pat Beemer said. “I think we generated at least half of their goal by really poor defensive rotation, but that’s something we can be better at for sure, but the truth is I think we could be plus three or four.”
The Leopards converted 50 percent of their 6-on-5 opportunities, which is better than they have been doing in past games, but the team still strives to perform better.
“Our 6-on-5, even though we scored the big one at the end, it wasn’t good enough,” Beemer said. “I haven’t looked at the stats yet, but if it’s not 50 percent then it’s not good enough.”
Ilene Guerrero, junior center, sealed the deal in the fourth quarter for the Leopards by converting two goals.
The last one was the game winner, scored by converting the power play with 1:14 remaining in the game.
“It came down to who had the better defense and who has the catch and shoot mentality,” Kezman said.
Kezman leads the conference with 74 goals, 20 more than the second place player, Lexi Rond of Cal Lutheran.
The Leopards traveled to Cal Lutheran on Wednesday, where Garcia led the Leopards with six goals.
But the team fell just short, losing 10-8 after slow starts in both halves.
La Verne now falls to fourth in SCIAC with an 8-5 conference record and 10-13 overall.
The Leopards return for their final conference game of the season against the Occidental Tigers at 11 a.m Saturday at the La Verne Aquatic Center.
The game has postseason implications for La Verne.
The Leopards control their own destiny, so if they beat Occidental, they earn a berth in the four-team SCIAC tournament.
If the Leopards lose, their berth will depend on the results of Claremont’s and Redlands’ games.
The tournament starts April 26.
Rex Sample can be reached at email@example.com.