Women's polo goes 1-3 in own tourney

    The Triton women’s water polo squad has started the 2004 season as a rebuilding year after suffering a disappointing 1-3 record at the UCSD Arena Invitational on Feb. 7 and Feb. 8. Opening with a strong 9-7 victory over Hartwick, the Tritons proceeded to stumble through three consecutive losses to Loyola Marymount by a 10-1 margin; Indiana, 8-1; and UC Santa Barbara, 3-1. UCSD rounded out the tournament with a sixth-place finish.

    Jennifer Downs
    Guardian

    Yet, following their final game of the grueling weekend, each member of the Triton team stepped out of the pool proudly, ignoring the ugly truth displayed on the scoreboard and commending themselves on a valiant effort, marking its victories through progress, not points scored.

    “”It was a good weekend for us progressively Ö we did stumble against LMU and Indiana, but by finishing intense and improving like we did against UCSB, we didn’t see the game as a loss at all,”” UCSD co-captain Meris Bantilan-Smith said.

    An emphasis on ferocity from the opening whistle, a focal point in practices stemming from UCSD’s inefficiencies to get a jump start at the Michigan Invite, was the key to the Tritons’ victory over Hartwick. Within two minutes of the start, an aggressive UCSD offense pressured Hartwick into forcing a six-on-five advantage. The Tritons set up a man-up offense that bunched players in front of the goal, giving Bantilan-Smith time to pump and toss the ball into the left corner of the cage for a 1-0 lead.

    UCSD carried the aggressiveness over to the defensive end, crashing to knock out the two-meter defender, evident in the five ejections drawn in the third quarter, and pressing the drivers into making bad passes. Whatever Hartwick threat UCSD couldn’t thwart, bad luck made for a formidable substitute; almost every shot the Hawks took sailed just wide or struck a post. By halftime, UCSD had mounted a 4-1 lead fueled by junior driver Jessica Wong’s two goals and bettering the three scored in the opening periods of the Michigan Invite.

    “”We were putting away all of our shots, and in this game, as in any, it was a huge boost,”” UCSD goalie Stephanie Lombardo said.

    In the fourth quarter, however, Hartwick came storming back from 6-3 down, muscling its way at two meters and scoring four goals, including three in a 1:21 stretch. UCSD, however, held its ground with three goals and big defensive stops, including a phenomenal one-on-one save by Lombardo with less than a minute and a half to play.

    Advancing to the winner’s bracket, the Tritons met up with Loyola Marymount in a jewel of an opportunity to feel out its top conference rival early on in the season. UCSD jumped out early once again; this time, junior utility Tobi Lyman fired one into the mid-left corner of the LMU cage with only 45 seconds elapsed in the game. On their next possession, the Lions moved the ball quickly to two-meter offense Devon Wright, who fired a quick toss over Lombardo to tie the score only 12 seconds after UCSD’s breakthrough.

    Lyman’s goal would be UCSD’s only success on offense all afternoon, as speed and scoring slowed to a trickle, and the Tritons were forced to abandon efforts at two meters due to a physical LMU defense that couldn’t keep its hands off UCSD players. Without a UCSD offensive attack, LMU ran away with a 10-1 victory, led by Jessica Conner’s four goals. Triton head coach Larry Sanders felt that the Lions’ success in shutting down UCSD’s offense came from a lack of calls awarded for fouls that, at the same time, the Tritons were being charged for.

    “”We weren’t getting the same calls that LMU was getting, so we had to take it easy and that was unfair to the girls,”” Sanders said. “”They worked hard out there, and they weren’t getting what they deserved.””

    A new day only brought the same old trouble as the offensive maladies continued against Indiana. Defensive pressure was almost overwhelming, allowing only one goal in the opening period and four goals in the first half. UCSD had plenty of opportunities, including 11 six-on-five chances, but could only muster one goal from Lyman in the middle of the third period to cut the Hoosier lead to 5-1. Any momentum was immediately shut down by a goal on Indiana’s next possession, and the Hoosiers rolled on to an 8-1 victory.

    “”We weren’t crashing or dropping like we were supposed to, and people weren’t actively moving or playing their roles,”” Sanders said of the sluggish defense.

    UCSD’s final game of the tournament against UCSB offered a chance for the Tritons to redeem themselves and salvage the weekend. In what turned out to be a nail-biter from start to finish, the UCSD defense gave an inspired performance, constantly pressuring the Gauchos at two meters with efficiency and drawing only two ejections throughout the game.

    In fact, each UCSB goal came not from offensive persistence, but from lucky bounces and miscues, exemplified by UCSB’s second goal of the first quarter. Lombardo made the initial save on a one-on-one situation, but the ball landed in front of a surprised Gaucho player, who simply pushed the ball in for the score.

    UCSD’s junior utility Courtney Clevenger displayed good timing in drawing defenders away to sink one in the Gaucho goal to cut the lead before the half. After UCSB scored on a breakaway in the third period, the Tritons tried furiously to find those points that would get them back in the game, but once again the offense came up short and time ran out.

    Despite the 1-3 performance and a 2-6 overall record, the progression of quality in team play throughout the tournament reflects a push toward a single, efficient mode of play for UCSD’s young squad. Game experience, certainly to be bolstered by UCSD’s next game at home against Cal State Northridge on Feb. 13, is valuable and the defensive cohesiveness displayed is what excites these young players most of all; it is a stepping stone to the bigger games and successes that lie ahead.

    “”It is frustrating knowing that we have so much talent, and we can’t put it all together just yet,”” Bantilan-Smith said. “”But the more we play these tournaments, the more we’ll play like we did against UCSB, and those games make us feel good about ourselves and our play.””

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