Sarah Van Buskirk
The La Verne women’s water polo team dropped its Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference home opener in a buzzer-beating 11-10 thriller against the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Athenas Wednesday evening at the La Verne Aquatic Center in Las Flores Park.
In defiance of the game’s outcome, the Leopards kept the intensity high as they trod their way past double overtime and into sudden death.
“We came out on the wrong side of a real tough one,” head coach Pat Beemer said. “The expectation with all of these conference games is to make a statement to where we are at and I think we did that even though we came up upside down.”
Beemer said the outlook of this coming season is to make the final four in the conference with Pomona-Pitzer in the first spot, Mudd-Scripps in the second spot and La Verne right there at the third spot, making this game even more important.
At the end of regulation, the score stood tied at 8-8 after the Leopards came back from a three-point deficit that they were trying to close in on for a majority of the first half.
The trimming of the Athenas’ lead started right before halftime from the tremendous efforts of the Leopards’ graduate student attacker Jassmine Kezman who found the back of the net on a powerplay opportunity, which brought the score to 6-4.
Kezman displayed her talents in the water by producing eight shots, six goals, one assist and two steals.
“The game was in our favor. We just missed our opportunities,” Kezman said. “I think we had a little bit of jitters in the beginning, but toward the middle of the game we knew our flow and we applied everything we have been practicing, so this is just lots of learning.”
Following up on Kezman’s goal, it was the Athenas’ possession. However CMS turned the ball over into the hands of senior center Nancy Trinh who scored with a man up, 6-5.
The third quarter came about and the Leopards outscored the Athenas, 3-2, to tie up the game but the offense is not the only one to acknowledge here.
Senior goalkeeper Kate Carlyle had an amazing game generating 10 saves during valuable times throughout the match to stuff any larger lead the Athenas were looking to expand on.
“I think out of all of our games this was the best one,” Carlyle said. “We communicated through, which is a huge thing for us. I feel like we were working as a unit rather than individuals.”
Kezman contributed to two of the goals in the third quarter, one of them being the tying point with one second to go, after aggressively getting around a defender while sophomore center Olivia Taylor, with the help of junior utility player Tamara Holstrom, aided on the other.
The fourth quarter was a defensively heavy part of the game with no scoring on either side. The Leopards kept a level head as there were 15 seconds left on the clock and the Athenas gained a power play. With the fierce penalty kill, the Leopards had final possession but could not execute and the first overtime initiated shortly after.
The Athenas scored first in overtime after freshman attacker Caitlin Muñoz battled with Carlyle and snuck the ball around her. The referee pulled out a yellow card and had a heated interaction with CMS head coach Greg Lonzo, but the yellow card was never recorded and the Athenas led, 9-8.
The Leopards were looking for redemption with about a minute left in first overtime. Kezman gained possession and got around the defense to throw a lob into the cage which tied the game yet again, 9-9.
Second overtime commenced and the Leopards struck first when Trinh strifed with the Athenas’ defense and dented the twine behind the goalie with the assistance of senior utility player Kelly Riedel to take the lead, 10-9.
Around the 30-second mark, the Leopards gained possession and held onto the ball to run out the clock. The shot clock rang with four seconds left in overtime and the Athenas had one more opportunity to tie the game yet again. They used that opportunity during the dwindling seconds as freshman attacker Isabel Del Villar skipped a shot in to add a tally onto the score sheet, 10-10, and sent the match into sudden death golden goal.
Sudden death was short lived as Athena’s junior attacker Cooper McKenna wasted no time and shot from mid-pool, throwing Carlyle off guard. That sent CMS home with their first conference win, 11-10.
“There was not one moment in the game that we can look at and say, man, we could have done things better,” Trinh said. “We left it all in the pool, there were no regrets and we played our game.”
Next up for the Leopards is to play host to the ULV Mini Tournament on Tuesday, as they will take on the visiting St. Francis Red Flash at 1 p.m. and the Macalester Scots at 7 p.m. They begin more SCIAC matchups starting at 4 p.m. Wednesday against Redlands. All of next week’s games will be at the La Verne Aquatic Center.
Sarah Van Buskirk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.