Tritons split at Long Beach State tournament

    The No. 19 UCSD women’s water polo team knocked off No. 6 Hawaii, 9-7, and outlasted No. 17 UC Irvine in sudden death, 8-7, at the Long Beach State Tournament in Long Beach, Calif., on April 18. This was UCSD’s final tournament of the regular season before advancing to the WWPA tournament, where the Tritons finished second to Loyola Marymount.

    The triumphs redeemed UCSD’s April 17 performance, in which the Tritons battled No. 1 USC for a quarter before falling 14-6 and suffering a devastating fourth quarter to No. 16 Cal State Northridge in an 8-4 setback.

    With the tournament split, the Tritons finished their regular season with a 13-19 record. The pair of victories ended a four-game skid for UCSD.

    UCSD’s offense came alive for the tail end of the tournament, lighting up the scoreboard with 17 goals in two games. UCSD’s versatility was instrumental in knocking off Hawaii, as eight Tritons hit the back of the cage, led by junior utility Tobi Lyman’s pair of goals. The Tritons also shot a healthy 9-for-20 to keep pressure on the Rainbow Wahines.

    In the match against UC Irvine, a four-goal third period boosted the Tritons over the Anteaters, despite losing a three-goal lead and being forced into overtime. Junior driver Jessica Wong finally capped off the long weekend with a four-meter penalty shot at 7 minutes, 31 seconds into sudden-death overtime. Wong and senior two-meter defender Meris Bantilan-Smith each picked up a hat trick, while Lyman and junior driver Courtney Clevenger each contributed a goal to the effort.

    “We had a lot of different people scoring, and finally we had that confidence getting the ball in the cage,” senior goalie Stephanie Lombardo said. Lombardo registered eight and seven saves against Hawaii and UC Irvine, respectively.

    The offensive push kept pressure off the UCSD defense, which managed to hold its own in crucial situations. After scoring six goals through three quarters, Hawaii was held to only one in the final seven minutes. UC Irvine scored twice in the fourth period to lead its comeback, but was stymied offensively and eventually tired out in overtime.

    “We held our ground and were able to score … we bent a little bit, but we didn’t break,” UCSD head coach Larry Sanders said.

    UCSD’s elasticity reached a breaking point against Cal State Northridge, who, with three head-to-head victories in 2004, has had the Tritons’ number. With the aid of Bantilan-Smith’s pair of scores, UCSD battled back from a 3-1 deficit, but could not close it out in the fourth. Chari Christopher hit three of the Matadors’ four goals in the final period to finish off the struggling Tritons. Graziella Caredda helped keep the Tritons out of the cage with seven saves, while Lombardo stopped five on her end.

    “We worked our way back from being down, let out a sigh of relief and got too relaxed,” Lombardo said. “We thought that because we had lost twice, it was our turn to win. We learned that other teams aren’t going to roll over for us.”

    Nobody expected much out of the Tritons as they squared off with 21-0 USC, but UCSD battled its way to only a one-goal deficit at the end of the first quarter. Unfortunately, that’s when the Trojans started hitting what Lombardo called “superhuman shots.”

    “These weren’t normal shots,” Lombardo said. “One long shot skipped on the water all along the way and went cross-cage.”

    The solid shooting contributed to six USC goals in the second period and an 11-2 advantage by the time the Trojans’ Eszter Gyori tallied her fourth score at the 2:53 mark in the third. Somewhere between the stifling shots, the Tritons managed to score four more, led by a Clevenger hat trick.

    “The losses and the meeting afterward fueled us to work harder. Larry [Sanders] was really disappointed with us, and we were disappointed with ourselves, so we fired ourselves up to play those next two games,” Lombardo said.

    Being humbled did the trick, as the Tritons found themselves down but not out in the next two games. After being down 5-4 early in the third period against Hawaii, five different Tritons scored to put UCSD over the top. With 4:55 left in the game, Lyman sealed the victory, giving the Tritons a two-goal margin they wouldn’t relinquish.

    Battling No. 6 UC Irvine in a 4-4 draw at halftime was invigorating enough for the Tritons, but the shots that were falling were the confidence-boosters that UCSD needed for the win.

    “Loyola Marymount, our rivals, are ranked No. 7, and this win gave us the confidence that, if we are making our shots, we can play with any team,” Sanders said.

    UCSD went up 7-4 at the 2:10 mark in the third period against UC Irvine, but the cushion wasn’t enough to seal the victory just yet. The Anteaters, taking advantage of a couple of UCSD turnovers, hit three goals, including two quick strikes at the beginning of the fourth, to send the Tritons into overtime.

    “The turnover that UC Irvine used to score was more of the official not making the call,” Sanders said. “I thought it was a bad call … our opponents got some calls their way, though.”

    The Tritons finally got the one call they needed when they drew a four-meter penalty late into sudden death. After 18 scoreless minutes, Wong finally sunk the game-winner to complete the long weekend.

    “No one wants to play nine quarters of water polo, but it was good to know that we can capitalize, know we can stay up and play hard,” Lombardo said.

    The Tritons were mentally and physically prepared for the April 24 and April 25 WWPA tournament in the final days before the contest.

    “The confidence of knowing they can play has made practices easier,” Sanders said. “There’s a lot more energy going around, and more positive vibes. They know that they can play with anybody.”

    That energy was a key factor in UCSD’s winning performances April 24, as the Tritons beat UC Davis and Cal State Hayward en route to the championship game, where they were shut down by Loyola Marymount in a 7-3 match.

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