Women’s water polo splits a pair of matches at home

    The No. 14 UCSD women’s water polo team saw how quickly the tables can turn on victory at Canyonview Pool on March 6, as the Tritons stuffed Claremont College, 8-2, then succumbed to No. 9 Loyola Marymount in a blistering fourth-quarter comeback, 8-3.

    The Tritons’ record now stands at 9-11. The loss to Western Water Polo Association rival LMU knocked UCSD’s conference record to 1-2, but with the Feb. 21 win over UC Davis, the Tritons hold an advantage in the conference standings.

    In the fourth quarter of the afternoon match, LMU’s Jamie Kroeze and Stacia Peterson scored in succession to pad their lead, 6-3, and stymie the Tritons’ charge, inspired by senior captain two-meter defender Meris Bantilan-Smith’s man-up goal that cut the deficit to one. Devon Wright hit a pair for the Lions in the last two minutes of the game to hold off UCSD.

    “We were at the right point. [We needed] to score another goal,” UCSD head coach Larry Sanders said. “LMU went up 6-3 and we were working hard, but not getting anything.”

    The Tritons held the Lions to within one for the better part of three quarters, but they never came into the lead, mounting two comebacks ending with Bantilan-Smith scores that cut the deficit to 2-1 in the first quarter and 4-3 in the third quarter.

    “We played three great quarters. We played tough and aggressive, and while we still need to do that for the whole game, we’ll still continue to progress,” Sanders said.

    Bantilan-Smith’s hat-trick accounted for all of UCSD’s scoring. Wright led LMU with four goals, while Kroeze, Rebecca Peterson, Stacia Peterson, Teresa Guidi and Jessica Conner each had one.

    The loss prolongs a four-year drought for the Tritons, who haven’t beaten LMU since the implementation of the NCAA Championships in 1999. The Lions also spoiled UCSD’s Final Four bids the last two seasons, defeating the Tritons 8-4 in 2002 and 8-6 in the 2003 WWPA Championship Games.

    Despite junior utility Tobi Lyman’s effort as she finished her ejection penalty, LMU’s Conner converted a six-on-five goal to take a 2-0 lead, which was cut to one after Bantilan-Smith took a pass at four-meter, shook off two defenders, and scored to get UCSD on the board.

    The Lions drew another ejection later in the quarter and attempted to hit the near-post man again, but senior goalie Stephanie Lombardo was there for the stop, the first of three such power-play shutdowns for the Tritons. Lombardo and sophomore goalie Kaitlin Foe combined for 11 saves. Aggressive two-meter defense and heavy outside blocking also helped to keep the Lions scoreless throughout the second quarter.

    UCSD was also persistent in creating second chances on its possessions, improving on an issue that Sanders cited as being detrimental in previous losses.

    “We played aggressive … they went up by two and we could charge back,” Sanders said. “The intensity made the offense much better.”

    He also credited the role of Bantilan-Smith in moving the attack.

    “Meris [Bantilan-Smith] is learning how to lead; she sees what’s happening and is learning to motivate her teammates,” Sanders said.

    The Lions extended their lead to 4-1 within the span of two minutes, as an LMU shot bounced off the top post into the goal and Guidi converted on a power play with 3:45 left in the third.

    But on the very next possession, freshman two-meter Natalie Hockett drew a four-meter penalty shot that Bantilan-Smith bounced into the near corner with ease. After drawing an ejection with 18 seconds left in the third, Sanders strategically sent in his whole first line, who, passing with poise and accuracy, found Bantilan-Smith at two-meters to again pull the Tritons within one.

    The morning game against Claremont was more preparation for LMU than a contest, as Sanders, comfortable with a 3-0 lead over the Division III Athenas, substituted gratuitously by the end of the first period, and had all his starters out by the half.

    “It was more of a warm-up and stretch-out,” Bantilan-Smith said. “We knew it wouldn’t be difficult, but we have to take teams seriously, no matter how good they are.”

    The second string got its chance to shine, breaking off the bench rust by the third quarter and tallying five goals in the space of 3:39. Junior utility Courtney Clevenger led the Tritons with three goals, and Hockett and sophomore driver Flynn LaRochelle each added a pair on top of senior two-meter Lesha Bounds’ goal. Claremont’s Jillian Kurvers and Annie Richardson both hit their consolation goals in the fourth quarter.

    The competition will get tougher as the Tritons play host to Princeton on March 12 at 6 p.m. before going head-to-head on March 13 with defending NCAA champion and No. 3 UCLA at 9 a.m. and No. 4 Long Beach State at 4 p.m. at Canyonview Pool.

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