Sarah Van Buskirk
A 180-degree flip of the men’s water polo team’s mentality ignited a second-half comeback against the Chapman Panthers on Saturday morning at the La Verne Aquatic Center. However, the Leopards could not claw away at the score and fell, 14-12.
The last meeting between the two teams resulted in Chapman’s 21-15 win on Oct. 7 at the Zee Allred Aquatics Center in Orange.
Head coach Pat Beemer said that the Leopards have grown tremendously as a team since the first match-up against the Panthers last month.
“We were not making the appropriate shift over defensively and we changed that in the third quarter,” Beemer said. “We were really solid and even in the fourth quarter we went into a press which we rarely do but we were behind so why not take a chance.”
Saturday’s roller coaster of a game started with the Leopards down 4-0 halfway through the first quarter. Junior defender Ryan Beery opened up the scoring for La Verne. He tied senior defender Peter Trinh as top goal scorer with four goals in the game.
“Our mentality was to hurry up and play slow,” Beery said. “We were trying to get the counters and get up on that first couple seconds of possession and if were not, to use that full shot clock and not waste any of our offensive time. But yeah, the first and second quarter were rough for us and the second half was a lot better.”
Two more Panther goals landed before freshman attacker Jordan Baker skipped a shot in on a two-meter. Chapman deposited two more before the end of the quarter, making the score 6-2.
La Verne came into the second quarter with more energy offensively as Baker ripped a nearside post shot from the left side that stunned the crowd silent because of the impressiveness of the goal.
Quick retaliation led to a slap shot goal by Panthers, putting them up 7-3. Junior defender Sawyer Nering took the next opportunity as the ball snuck past both the defender’s and goalie’s hand up tactic to close the gap to 7-4.
As the remaining two minutes of the quarter ticked down, two more shots landed for the Panthers but Trinh displayed willpower in the water to comeback and buried two rockets into the cage. The score was now 9-6.
“I think it all came down to nerves,” Trinh said. “All of us wanted to beat Chapman and everyone in the SCIAC has a familiar feeling toward Chapman. We want to go in and try to do everything you can to win, so I think the anxiety got the best of us especially when it came to scoring.”
Like a pinball ricocheting off obstacles, Chapman banked the final goal of the half in off the arms of the Leopards to make it 10-6.
After a regroup in the locker room, the Leopards’ defense played more man-to-man and the first goal of the quarter hit the cage with two minutes left, credited to Chapman, 11-6.
The Leopards’ typical third quarter exhaustion due to their small roster hit and the Panthers tallied another two goals. With a second left on the clock, Trinh drilled a shot to dent the twine, 13-7.
Defensive steals skyrocketed in the third quarter for defining moments of the game which came from Baker, Trinh and Beery, who each had three. Junior center David Gutierrez and Nering finished the game with one steal each. Junior goalkeeper Eric Bates had a busy game as he came out of the water with 15 impressive saves.
“I knew those shots were coming, they hit me with a couple no-looks and we were down 6-1,” Bates said. “So I said, alright something that’s not working here, so we just needed to wake up as a team. We were not there in the first quarter, especially me, so we needed to lock in.”
In the final quarter, the Leopards dominated, outscoring the Panthers, 5-1. Beery marked the period’s first two points on the score sheet with back-to-back goals. Baker followed with an assist by Trinh to make it 13-10.
Chapman sank their final goal of the quarter before Trinh and Beery tried to capitalize on the Panthers’ offense pumping their brakes for a final score of 14-12.
On Wednesday, the Leopards traveled to No. 6 Cal Lutheran and controlled the first half enough to get the upper hand for a 9-7 win to increase their record to 6-19 overall and 3-8 in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play.
Sarah Van Buskirk can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.