UCSD dropped by unranked CSUN

    After an inspired performance against UC Santa Barbara, where cohesive play made a long-awaited appearance, the No. 15 UCSD women’s water polo team knew a Feb. 13 home match against unranked Cal State Northridge could build on that confidence.

    Jennifer Downs
    Guardian file

    However, the Tritons lost the game, 7-6, at Canyonview Pool on senior two meter defender Pam Barba’s sudden-death goal one minute and 56 seconds into the third overtime.

    After leading 4-1 at the end of the first period and 6-4 to begin the fourth, the Tritons let the Matadors slip through exposed cracks and tie the score twice. These cracks need patching if UCSD is to seriously compete against San Jose State on Feb. 20 and in the Davis Shootout on Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 to improve on a 2-7 record.

    “Even if we would have won in overtime, it wouldn’t have changed the mistakes that we made during the game that got us there,” UCSD head coach Larry Sanders said.

    Senior Meris Bantilan-Smith’s two goals were tops for the Tritons while junior utility Courtney Clevenger, junior driver Jessica Wong, sophomore driver Flynn LaRochelle and junior utility Tobi Lyman each cashed in once. Chari Christopher led the Matadors with three goals, bolstered by one goal each from Erica Bonetti and Kristen Franz. But Barba’s game-tying and winning goals were the nails in the coffin for a struggling UCSD defense that held tight for several minutes but let up when it counted most.

    After LaRochelle scored the first goal of her career to break a 4-4 deadlock in the third, and Lyman converted off the rebound of a Bantilan-Smith shot with one second left in the period, the 6-4 lead swung the momentum toward UCSD. However, Cal State Northridge’s Christopher laced a shot through sophomore goalie Kaitlin Foe’s outstretched arms to make the game unnervingly close with over four minutes left.

    The Tritons put a heavy press on the Matadors for the next three possessions, and it appeared that UCSD would slip away with the victory. But with 30 seconds left, Cal State Northridge grabbed the ball from UCSD freshman two-meter offense Natalie Hockett and fired down the pool to a streaking Barba, who, untouched, had plenty of time to pump and aim her shot, a low bounce under Foe’s left arm to send the game into overtime.

    “We relaxed too soon, and we weren’t executing,” said UCSD senior goalie Stephanie Lombardo, who made four saves in the first half. “We have defenses that are strong, but those defenses that we didn’t execute today need sharp mental focus … This game should have been completely different.”

    The Tritons had definite opportunities to put the game away in the fourth quarter and in overtime, where they went 0-for-3 on man-up opportunities, but couldn’t stammer many shots on goal and, many times, were forced to dump the ball after hesitating.

    A combined six possessions during those two periods died at two meters, where Hockett and senior Lesha Bounds were having trouble containing passes and getting shots off under pressure. Both have limited game experience at the position, and Sanders stresses that the offense “will get better over time because [Hockett and Bounds] are learning and developing well.” Maintaining the intensity that the Tritons opened up against Cal State Northridge for an entire game will be “the key to improving,” he said.

    For the first period, it seemed like the Matadors were going to be the pushovers that everyone assumed them to be, as the Tritons converted on three straight possessions, displaying confidence and control in their play, especially in the second goal. After drawing an ejection at two meters, the UCSD offense set itself up in a 4-2, echoing out confidently “just like in practice,” moving and pumping the ball with precision to get a shot off. The shot was tipped, but on the throw-in Bantilan-Smith fired home to covert the 6-on-5 advantage.

    Bantilan-Smith would also end the period in the same fashion, taking a cross-court pass on a man-up opportunity and drilling a shot with 7.2 seconds left to give UCSD a 4-1 lead, bolstered by the 2-for-2 performance on man-up chances in the period.

    The confidence, however, wore away with UCSD’s loss of control of the ball and the lead. The first sign of struggle came at the beginning of the second quarter, when Cal State Northridge fired a shot that bounced off a post and trailed off to the left side of the pool. All six UCSD players scrambled down the pool, each thinking someone had gotten the ball before turning around when they heard Lombardo screaming for someone to pick it up. A surprised Christopher picked up the loose ball for the Matadors and passed it to a wide open Franz, who had a good five seconds, unusual in water polo, to get the ball past Lombardo, cutting the lead to 4-2. And so began a turnaround for Cal State Northridge that would last right up until Barba’s game winner.

    The Tritons will head to San Jose State for their next matchup on Feb. 20. UCSD will then spend Feb. 21 and Feb. 22 at the UC Davis Shootout in Davis, Calif.

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