Women’s water polo drops Harper Cup to San Diego State

    The seniors of UCSD women’s water polo team gave their farewell performance to fans at Canyonview Pool in the third annual Harper Cup on April 16. UCSD managed a couple of inspired charges but were unable to bring home the bacon in a 9-4 loss to crosstown foe San Diego State.

    Emotions ran high among the four seniors who were acknowledged with pre-game flowers and hugs, while the rest of the Tritons faced an Aztec squad that was low on sentiment and high on swift attacking. Within two minutes of the opening whistle, Holly Hartzell struck from the hole in successive possessions to give San Diego State an advantage that would grow as high as 9-2 by the end of the third period.

    The loss was the third consecutive Harper Cup disappointment for the Tritons, who remain in second place in the Western Water Polo Association with a 12-17 record. The Aztecs now hold a 27-6 head-to-head margin against the Tritons.

    “We were not ready to go,” said UCSD senior goalie Stephanie Lombardo, who picked up three saves. “We didn’t warm up, and maybe the first 30 seconds it was very emotional, then I got scored on and then I realized ‘Whoa, its still polo’ … it had a sobering effect.”

    Hartzell had another goal before the end of the half on her way to earning the Harper Cup MVP award. Dominique Delgado and Sandy Onweller were potent as Hartzell’s drivers, each hitting a pair.

    The Aztecs had plenty of success firing from two-meters in the first half, with Delgado hitting her shots from a sharp angle just beyond the right post. San Diego State’s goals in the second half didn’t come without a little good fortune. UCSD junior driver Courtney Clevenger was all over Savannah Kelly, but the shot squeezed through her outstretched arms. Onweller fired a shot that was blocked by Lombardo, but eventually crawled its way into the goal.

    UCSD senior two-meter defender Meris Bantilan-Smith still managed a pair of goals in the midst of a sputtering attack that drew nine ejections, including two, rare six-on-four man-ups, yet only converted one of those advantages. The Tritons also had 11 turnovers in the contest, putting the pressure solely on the shoulders of their defense.

    The crowd got to its feet when Clevenger drew a four-meter penalty shot with only 0.9 seconds left in the third period; however, all that amounted was a bounce off the crossbar and another rebound for the Aztecs.

    “[San Diego] State just brought the intensity. We backed off and weren’t on our legs or executing,” Bantilan-Smith said.

    UCSD still managed to find some spark in the midst of the frustrating effort. Early in the second quarter after Delgado’s second goal of the match, Clevenger took a pass at mid-pool from Stephanie Lombardo and swam at a cautious pace toward her defender.

    As her defender backed off, Clevenger calmly tossed a lob from eight meters out past beaten Aztec goaltender Ashley Zabel to cut San Diego State’s lead in half, 4-2.

    Later, Bantilan-Smith redeemed the penalty shot mishap by bouncing a shot in the lower left corner of the cage after drawing a four-meter shot of her own.

    Sophomore driver Flynn LaRochelle took a quick pass with less than 40 seconds left and put one past Zabel to give the game its final scoreline and send the crowd to its feet.

    The intensity displayed in the final goal was the spark of energy that the Tritons had been looking for in the game and throughout the season. The brief flashes left many wanting more.

    Amid the frustration, however, the Tritons found a little time to brighten their spirits. As the shot clock ran down late in the game, junior two-meter defender Lindsay Grossman, trapped in the near corner by her defender, pumped inside as if she was going to pass, then tossed the ball outside, forcing her defender to chase after the ball, drawing laughter from the bench.

    Despite failing to earn the Harper Cup for the third consecutive year, the women didn’t seem too disappointed.

    Men’s water polo coach Denny Harper, for whom the tournament is dedicated, coached both UCSD head coach Larry Sanders and San Diego State head coach Carin Crawford at UCSD and captured five women’s national titles from 1985 through 1999.

    “We do have a rivalry with [San Diego] State because they’re the crosstown school, but they’re not in our conference, they’re not Loyola Marymount or UC Davis; we’d rather beat them than State,” Lombardo said.

    The Tritons round out their regular season at the Long Beach Invitational on April 17 and April 18 in Long Beach, Calif., before playing for a NCAA Final Four berth at the WWPA Championships on April 16 through April 18 at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles.

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