Sarah Van Buskirk
The women’s water polo team performed well late in a 12-6 loss against the Whittier Poets on Wednesday afternoon at the La Verne Aquatic Center. Due to the cancellation of last week’s game against Redlands, this was the Leopards’ first Southern California Intercollegiate Conference game of the season.
Early in the first quarter, Poet senior attacker Natasha Velez received the ball in front of the goal with Leopard pressure on her and made a successful backhanded shot. Leopard goalie Kate Carlyle said Velez was their defense’s main focus due to her notable backhands.
The Leopards were trying to assert dominance when sophomore center Nanea Mattson stole the ball twice from the Poets, however could not capitalize, leaving the score at 1-0.
By the end of the first period the Leopards had two shots on goal, both hitting the crossbar.
“We could not buy a goal,” head coach Pat Beemer said. “We were getting really quality shots in but we were either hitting the bar or missing the goal all together. Our finishing was really a problem.”
As the second quarter began, the Poets were on the ball first with a goal just grazing Carlyle’s fingertips and a good five-meter penalty shot, expanding their lead to 3-0.
The Poets’ offense got around the Leopards one more time putting the ball in the back of the net, the score stood 4-0.
Shortly after, Leopard senior attacker Jasmine Kezman drove to the goal with power and picked up a five-meter penalty, but Whittier’s goalie stopped the shot. The Leopards were struggling to get themselves on the board.
However, the Leopards’ defense began catching on as Velez went in for another backhanded shot but it was blocked by Carlyle. On the Poets’ next drive, senior utility player Alex Lopez went for a backhand as well but Carlyle interfered again. Though a minute later, Lopez shot from in front of the goal, skipping the ball in, 5-0.
The Leopards had hit the crossbar three more times and still could not connect with the net.
“We played them in January and I can see we played a lot better,” senior attacker Sona Aghasaryan said. “It was just the offense we couldn’t continue since we had a lot of shots and misses.”
In the final seconds of the half, the Poets held onto the ball, running out time on both clocks, sending the teams into the locker rooms for halftime.
The third quarter is when the Leopards began to wake up. After a Poet goal from the far side, the Leopards started their drive. Junior center Nancy Trinh went for the shot but it tipped off the goalie’s hands, giving them a corner. Kezman then had possession and skipped the ball past the goalie which put them on the board for the first time all game, 6-1.
Poets retaliated with a long pass to wide open senior defender Karissa Qualley to score. The Poets then led 7-1.
The Leopards showed aggression when attacker Dani D’Andrea forced a turnover. D’Andrea passed to Kezman who found utility player Abby Nunez for the goal. Closing in on the gap, the score stood 7-2.
For the rest of the third quarter, the Poets added two more points to their lead, 9-2. The Leopards could not continue with their momentum, sending them into the final quarter with a seven point deficit.
In the fourth quarter, the Poets struck first with a goal but Kezman followed up with another. After a battle with a Poet defender, Kezman got a breakaway and her shot was successful, the score then was 10-3.
Poets found the net again but back to back shots by Nunez and D’Andrea closed the Poets’ lead to 11-5.
In the final two minutes of the game both teams scored. Senior attacker Sumi Rudisky put the final goal in for the Leopards after a long shot.
“Even though we experienced a loss against Whittier today, we still had heart and determination throughout the whole game,” sophomore attacker Lauren Holcomb said.
The Leopards will take on the Claremont Convergence tournament hosted by Occidental this weekend against four other teams. They will return to conference play on March 9 as they travel to Cal Lutheran.
Sarah Van Buskirk can be reached at email@example.com.