Sarah Van Buskirk
The men’s water polo team could not keep pace with the No. 15 Loyola Marymount Lions who dominated in the first game of the Inland Empire Classic, 27-8, Saturday morning at the La Verne Aquatic Center.
La Verne started out with high intensity for a big portion of the first quarter. On the Leopards’ second advancing play of the game, senior attacker Gage Unsoeld put the first point on the board when he banked the ball off the post into the goal.
The Lions quickly tied it up but senior attacker Alam Chang received a long pass from graduate goalie Joe Lamson to put the Leopards back on top, 2-1. That was the last play of the game where the Leopards were on top.
Head coach Pat Beemer said that the team knew what they were getting into before the game against LMU because of their national ranking, but still thought the Leopards showcased some of their talents.
“There were times where I thought we played really well and we were able to score eight against them,” Beemer said. “We just made a lot of silly mistakes with turnovers that led to the score.”
The Lions took over with two minutes left in the first quarter, putting the Leopards down, 7-2. Graduate center James Cano was able to sneak the ball in before the buzzer rang to slightly tighten the deficit to 7-3.
He said that despite the score the team did a really good job with movement away from the ball.
“On offense, we were creating opportunities without the ball in hand, especially on the perimeter,” Cano said.
Finishing advancing plays was an issue for the Leopards but their ability to open up the water and create other opportunities was one of their strong suits in the game.
Beemer said that because of Cano, this year the Leopards have a really strong center and that is something that they have not seen in a while. Cano scored three other goals against LMU which helped lift spirits and gain momentum for the Leopards.
Junior center Peter Trinh also picked up things for the Leopards when he was substituted in during the second period. Trinh assisted Cano’s second goal that brought the score to 14-4 just minutes before halftime.
After a Leopard timeout, Trinh found the back of the net and the home side of the bench was fired up heading into the locker room. The Lions led 14-5.
“We started to slowly get exhausted and not produce at the rate we wanted and LMU took the game,” Trinh said. “That is something we have been working on is not straying away and staying aggressive the whole game.”
Going into the third quarter, the Leopards substituted Lamson for junior goalkeeper Allen Soto-Lopez.
The Lions were using multiple different passing sequences to confuse the Leopards and leave players wide open in the middle. They used those opportunities to get further in the lead.
A five-meter penalty shot was given to the Leopards and Trinh stepped up. His shot was no good, however, and on the Leopards’ next advancing play, junior attacker Tristen Tippett skipped the ball into the goal. The Leopards still trailed 16-6.
Tippett said that he really enjoyed playing at home for the first time in a while and it is always a good feeling to be back in La Verne waters. Tippet also said no matter what when mistakes were made the team knew how to support each other.
“The morale on the benches was really nice,” Tippett said. “The guys made sure to acknowledge good plays and pick each other up.”
The third quarter had the last bit of mojo the Leopards’ offense could give. Cano, with a big swing of his arm, launched the ball toward the goal, tallying up another point. Minutes later Unsoeld threw a pass to Cano to tip in for a goal and that was where the scoring stopped for the Leopards.
The Lions continued to add to their lead in the final quarter which resulted in a 27-8 win. La Verne carried on for the rest of the tournament, falling short to Westcliff University, 20-12, later Saturday afternoon and 27-9 against Long Beach State on Sunday morning. The Leopards managed to leave the weekend with a close 14-13 win against the Ottawa Spirit to end on a high note.
La Verne is currently 3-5 overall.
This weekend the Leopards will travel to Colorado to compete in the Air Force Rare Air Challenge tournament before they head back home to embark on the beginning of their Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference journey on Sept. 28 against Chapman.
Sarah Van Buskirk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.