Water Polo Falls in Thrilling Final

SPORTS-wpolonov7-20091111123720-1-EJMEN’S WATER POLO — For the past three seasons, the Tritons have struggled to get the better of their rival, Loyola Marymount University, and have been unsuccessful in both playoff and regular-season games. Yesterday afternoon, UCSD ran into the same troubles at the conference championships.

No. 8 Loyola Marymount defeated No. 10 UCSD 5-4 in the Western Water Polo Association Championships on Nov. 22 in Orange, Calif., securing the Lions’ third conference title and ending the Tritons’ 2009 season.

“We were confident, had an excellent gameplan and we executed perfectly,” head coach Denny Harper said. “Anytime you lose a game by a score of 5-4, that means you were right there.

The Tritons faced off against their rival after securing victories over the University of Redlands and Whittier College in the first two rounds of playoffs. Following the trend of previous matchups between Loyola Marymount and UCSD, the teams battled back and forth throughout the match. UCSD got on the board first to start the game, and from then on, the two teams traded goals for the next three-and-a-half quarters.

With the score tied 2-2 in the third quarter, the Tritons took a 3-2 lead with 4:49 left in the period, but the Lions stormed right back, tying the game on the next possession. The teams added one goal apiece in the third period to tie the game at 4-4 entering the fourth quarter.

The defenders continued their strong play in the fourth quarter, and neither team was able to score until Loyola Marymount sophomore Max Schlegel put the Lions on top with a shot from outside of five meters. Schlegel’s score would end up being the winning goal, as UCSD was held scoreless for the rest of the game.

With the win, the Lions will advance to the NCAA tournament, while the Tritons end their season on another disappointing loss to their rival.

“I could not be more proud of this team,” Harper said. “We got better every week and just came up a little short. We are all aware of the bumpy road we had to travel not having our home pool for most of the season. I’m extremely proud of the season and extremely proud of the seniors.”

After securing the No. 3 seed for the tournament, the Tritons had their hands full in their opening game against No. 6 seed University of Redlands. UCSD fell behind in the first quarter 4-2 before putting up five goals in the second period to tie the game 7-7 at the half.

The Tritons found themselves in a 9-7 hole in the third quarter, but used three scores in the last two-and-a half-minutes of the quarter to take a 10-9 lead. UCSD carried this momentum into the fourth period, taking its largest lead of the game with just under five minutes to play.

SPORTS-wpolonov7-20091111123313-1-EJNursing a 12-9 advantage, the Tritons saw their lead quickly fade in a Redlands rally. The Bulldogs evened the score in the final ticks of the fourth quarter, sending the game into overtime. Sophomore utility Lance Curtiss and senior driver Sean Roberts netted scores in the first overtime period, securing the 14-13 victory for UCSD.

Following the unexpectedly tight game, the Tritons faced off against No. 7 seed Whittier College, which had pulled an upset over No. 2 seed Air Force Academy in the Poets’ opening game.

The Tritons put the Poets away early on, scoring nine unanswered goals to start the semifinal match. The Poets managed to net one score in the first half to make the game 9-1 at the break. UCSD didn’t let up in the second half, cruising to a 16-3 blowout victory.

Senior two-meter defender Steven Donohoe led UCSD with five goals, and four other Tritons netted multiple scores. Sophomore goalkeeper David Morton held his own in the cage, blocking the first seven Poet shots and finishing the game with 12 saves.

“On Saturday, it was probably one of the most lopsided semifinals ever,” Harper said. “The guys wanted to rid themselves of any bad feelings from the overtime win. We needed to play well Saturday so that we could carry momentum into the finals.”

Readers can contact Janani Sridharan at [email protected].

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