The women’s water polo team was on the move this week, taking down Redlands at the La Verne Aquatic Center Saturday, 8-4, and Whittier on the road Wednesday, 10-8, to win five straight and move into a third place tie in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
This was the team’s second match up with Redlands, after losing 10-8 on Feb. 27.
After that season opening loss, many on the team were left dissatisfied with their performance and were happy to return the favor to Redlands.
“None of us were really satisfied the first time we played them. They got us a month ago and beat us 10-8,“ head coach Pat Beemer said. “Not only did we have to beat them, but the objective was to beat them more than they beat us.”
This game also had playoff implications on the line. With La Verne winning big SCIAC games over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Occidental and Chapman, and with Redlands winning the first matchup against La Verne, the Leopards were only half a game ahead of the Bulldogs coming into Saturday’s game.
The first quarter was very defensive, with the Bulldogs striking first, three minutes into the game.
The rest of the quarter remained scoreless, signaling the defensive tone that would carry throughout the rest of the game.
In the second quarter both teams would start to trade goals, with La Verne eventually gaining the edge with multiple scoring plays from junior utility Jasmine Kezman and senior attacker Guarina Garcia, giving La Verne the 3-2 lead heading into half.
Redlands would tie the game halfway through the third quarter, but junior center Ilene Guerrero would get the lead back for La Verne, scoring off of a pass from Kezman.
These would be the only goals in what was a very defensive quarter, with neither team able to convert plays to score.
“I think we had a slow start. I think once we started picking up the intensity they kind of backed down,” freshman attacker Sage Nowell said.
The Leopards would really pick up the intensity coming into the fourth quarter, scoring four consecutive unanswered goals.
The first came when a wide open Guerrero drove with the ball to the cage where she passed to an open Kezman who took the shot, completing her hat-trick, extending La Verne’s lead to 5-3.
Next, Nowell would get in on the action, scoring a clean shot to the top left of the cage.
Kezman would nail another wide open shot for her fourth goal of the day, then senior attacker Victoria Mezack would get the ball to an open Guerrero to score, putting the final nail in the coffin.
“They’re a tough team that plays great defense,” Beemer said. “It’s no secret that we have three kids that can really shoot the ball, so (Redlands) really focused on those three. That allowed other kids to step up into the fray. Sage scoring in the fourth quarter, she’s just a freshman, but she took the ball, drilled it and that’s exactly what we needed.”
With 30 seconds left in the game Redlands would finally answer back, but it was too little too late for the Bulldogs, as La Verne would take the game, 8-4.
“I think we’ve progressed from months before. When we played Redlands, that was a our first conference game of the season and we had jitters,” Kezman said. “I think now we’re more comfortable with each other and now know how each other play, whereas during the beginning we had a lot of transfers and freshmen so we had to figure out a lot of play styles.”
With the win, La Verne now improves to 5-3 in SCIAC and 7-11 overall and cements themselves in fourth place behind Pomona-Pitzer, Cal Lutheran and Whittier.
“This is my first year here, and to hear that we need to do this and this, and now this has secured us fourth place. I’m really excited to see how far we can go,” Guerrero said.
Junior Shelby Garcia came up big in the cage throughout the game, notching seven saves and three steals, earning her SCIAC Women’s Water Polo Defensive Athlete of the Week honors.
Beemer credits the team’s recent success to their close 13-12 loss against Cal Lutheran March 12, a loss that helped the team realize they could compete with the top.
“Even though we lost that game we played them to a one goal game. I had been telling the girls that we’re a good team, but I don’t think they had really bought into it until that game,” Beemer said. “I think that flipped the switch.”
Against Whittier, Kezman led the team, adding four more goals onto her SCIAC-leading season total of 69. Mezack’s 29 assists also lead the league.
“I was kind of nervous at first but seeing how willing and open the girls were to play with me and how they took me in, it’s honestly been the best season I’ve ever had,” Nowell said.
The Leopards, now 6-3 in SCIAC and tied for third with Whittier, will take on SCIAC leader Pomona-Pitzer on the road at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Joey Matsuzawa can be reached at email@example.com.