Water polo's Final Four hopes ended by LMU

    The UCSD women’s water polo team traveled to Santa Cruz this weekend to play in the Women’s Water Polo Association Conference Tournament for a chance to compete in the Final Four and national championships.

    Guardian file photo

    Winning the tournament was the only way to earn a berth in the Final Four, and the Tritons nearly accomplished the feat, but fell to Loyola Marymount in the finals.

    UCSD faced its quarterfinal opponent Cal State San Bernardino on Saturday. The Tritons blasted the helpless Coyotes 12-3. Junior Dana Tucker led the charge with four goals, and senior Emma Kudritzki fired three shots into the back of the cage.

    With the victory, the Tritons faced UC Davis in the semifinals later that day. The two teams split victories during the regular season, and the match carried high stakes with it. The winner would move on to play in the championship game, and the loser would have to settle for a consolation third-place game.

    UCSD started quickly, taking a 3-1 lead after the first period. The Tritons continued their momentum against the Aggies into halftime and held a 4-2 edge. Davis was able to close the gap to one goal after three periods with a score of 5-4.

    In the fourth and deciding period, Triton senior Courtney Hemmerly found a hole in the defense and scored, giving the Tritons a 6-4 lead. This would be all they needed because the stingy UCSD defense showed its strength by only allowing one more goal for the rest of the game. Sophomore Meris Bantilan-Smith provided exceptional two-meter defense and fellow sophomore Andrea Cornford stonewalled the Aggies with 11 saves in goal.

    Tucker again led the scoring charge with three goals. Hemmerly tallied two goals and Kudritzki added another to finish out UCSD’s scoring.

    Head coach Larry Sanders was impressed with his team’s clutch victory and berth to the league championship.

    “”I felt we really controlled the first half,”” he said. “”The key to our win was our ability to contain [UC Davis] from any big charges in the second half.””

    Kudritzki added, “”It was a championship game in itself.””

    An invitation to the Final Four was close, and only Loyola Marymount stood in UCSD’s way. In their previous meeting March 2, LMU was able to defeat the Tritons 4-2 at Canyonview Pool.

    The Tritons jumped ahead early in the game and they held a slim 2-1 lead going into the second period. LMU was able to tie the game, and at halftime the score was 3-3. However, UCSD suffered a major blow when Tucker was ejected from the game after receiving a four-meter penalty and two ejections. This proved fatal for the Tritons.

    “”[Losing Tucker] was a psychological blow,”” Kudritzki said. “”We were not prepared for it and I think that gave [Loyola Marymount] some momentum.””

    The Lions stymied the Tritons by only allowing one goal in the entire second half. LMU picked up its offensive play with some impressive long shots on the goal and was able to take the lead and hold onto it. The Tritons also missed a few opportunities to get back into the game by failing to convert on several man-advantage situations.

    Even with Kudritzki’s three-goal effort, UCSD was not able to overcome LMU and was defeated 8-4 to end the season.

    Sanders reflected the bittersweet feeling the team felt after coming so close to the Final Four.

    “”We just had a letdown in the second half,”” he said. “”I’m glad that we at least placed ourselves in the position to reach our goal, but we unfortunately couldn’t get there.””

    Kudritzki seemed a little more optimistic about the result.

    “”Even though we lost, it was great to have an opportunity to win the [WWPA Championship],”” she said.

    After the tournament, several Tritons were honored with All-WWPA selections. Both Tucker and Kudritzki earned first-team selections, Hemmerly landed on the second-team and junior Samara Silverman received an honorable mention.

    With the season finished and her playing career virtually done, Kudritzki reflected back on the great year she and her teammates had.

    “”We had some really big wins that should bring some respect to our program,”” she said. “”This is something I’ll look back on and remember as an amazing experience others seldom have a chance to be a part of.””

    Sanders agreed.

    “”I think we had a great season,”” he said. “”We beat programs with more funding behind them and showed we could compete at the highest level.””

    Already looking ahead, Sanders added, “”I think we can do even better next year.””

    With only two seniors leaving and a solid core of underclassmen, Sanders has a right to be confident.

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