Tritons go 1-3 at season-opening Michigan Invite

    After months of preparation, the Tritons kicked off their season at the Michigan Invite on Jan. 24 and Jan. 25 with sparks of anticipation that fizzled quickly with a 6-2 opening defeat and losses to Indiana and Arizona State. Only an 18-1 besting of Marist saved the Tritons from an 0-4 start to the year.

    Guardian file

    Despite showing disappointing offensive breakdowns and defensive lapses, the tournament allowed a young UCSD squad to gain valuable experience in game situations, which may help prepare the Tritons for the UCSD Arena Invitational on Feb. 7 and Feb. 8.

    “”We’ll always be disappointed with three losses, but what was important was that we learned with each game and progressed throughout the weekend,”” UCSD head coach Larry Sanders said. “”It was good for the team to play in some games, but now we’ll really need to work.””

    This optimism was a far cry from the Tritons’ first-game jitters as they entered their opening match against Michigan. UCSD’s new squad allowed the Wolverines, unchecked, to race out to a 6-0 advantage by the fourth quarter and to an eventual 6-2 victory.

    “”There was so much anxiety at game time, with the new team and all, that we weren’t really set to go out and play together,”” senior goalie Stephanie Lombardo said.

    The UCSD offense did have its share of opportunities, but had trouble putting away goals in front of the cage, shooting a scant 2-for-30, and failing to convert on what Sanders called “”at least three legitimate counterattack”” opportunities. While the offensive effort was enough to put up two fourth quarter goals, one from senior two-meter defender Meris Bantilan-Smith, the other from junior two-meter defender Lindsay Grossman, the defeat was upsetting for a squad looking for some solid ground.

    Some pressure was taken off the shoulders of the young squad, however, as UCSD recorded its first victory of the season over Marist, 18-1. Ten Tritons, led by freshman Natalie Hockett’s five-goal performance, got their name on the stat sheet, but more importantly, the relaxed pace allowed the Tritons to explore on offense and, according to junior driver Jessica Wong, “”find new connections amongst [each other].””

    Against Indiana, the renewed offense held true, but it was a leaky defense that proved to be UCSD’s downfall in the 9-6 loss. The Tritons played tough and held a 5-3 lead midway in the third, but the defense suddenly let up, allowing the Hoosiers to go 3-for-3 on power play opportunities and score four goals in the last quarter and a half.

    UCSD’s chance to break even in the tournament was thwarted by a speedy Arizona State attack that, like the Tritons’ other losses, sped out quickly to a 4-1 lead and never looked back, posting an 8-3 victory. UCSD’s three goals were overshadowed once again by an ineffective counterattack and failure to convert opportunities.

    Despite one of the worst starts to a season in recent years, the UCSD squad left Michigan with an optimistic outlook on their game-by-game development of team play. The nervous, uncoordinated bunch has slowly gotten the experience monkey off its back, contributing to a new attitude of “”optimism Š moving forward, and [learning] how to build on all this,”” Wong said.

    But, according to Lombardo, optimism doesn’t mean that the Tritons will take it easy now that some of the preseason pressure has been eased.

    “”We won’t be relaxed until we win,”” he said.

    The Tritons’ next opportunity to prove themselves will be at the UCSD Arena Invitational at Canyonview Pool. Both Indiana and ASU will be part of the 16- team field.

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