As the UC Irvine Women’s Water Polo team stood next to the Long Beach State 49ers waiting to be introduced at their first home match on Feb. 19, it was clear that the Anteaters were going up against a daunting opponent.
CSULB, looking more like a football team than a water polo team, lined the pool at the Anteater Aquatics Complex with at least 25 players, all wearing intimidating long black parkas. On a windy afternoon, with a crowd of around 75 on hand despite a morning of heavy rain, UCI (3-3, 1-1 Big West) did not back down from CSULB, the fifth-ranked team in the country. Although the Anteaters lost the game down the stretch, the 11-7 final score did not accurately portray the first half efforts of the Anteaters, currently ranked 16th in the nation. The first period began with CSULB scoring two quick goals, both by Cassie Azevedo.
UCI responded with two goals of their own, the first coming from senior two-meter Erica Nicholson when she was able to gain a position in front of the net and convert a nice shot past CSULB goalie Bri Hawkins.
The tying goal was a demonstration of UCI senior utility player Christine McDonald’s power and accuracy as she drilled a shot past Hawkins and several CSULB defenders from beyond the six meter mark. Azevedo, CSULB’s main attacker, quickly notched her third goal of the match, breaking the 2-2 tie and setting the stage for the most exciting play of the match.
Trailing 3-2, and having several shots hit the post in the first half, the Anteaters needed a break. That break came when UCI freshman driver Nicole Frish found herself wide open after a CSULB turnover.
Sprinting down the right side of the pool and preparing to fire a shot on goal, Frish was caught from behind and a foul was called giving UCI a penalty throw inside the four-meter line. Sophomore driver Robyn Kaake, blasted the shot to the left of Hawkins.
However, the 3-3 tie was short-lived as CSULB’s Alison Braden gave the 49ers a 4-3 halftime lead. It looked as though UCI might be able to pull out the upset and gain a big conference win in their first home game of the year.
Yet, the upset was not to be, as CSULB took quick control of the match to go up 6-3. Sensing that the match was slipping out of their grasp, UCI Head Coach Dan Klatt called a time-out in an attempt to stop the 49ers’ onslaught. Klatt, a member of the U.S. Men’s Olympic Water Polo team that competed in Athens this past summer, is in his first season as the head coach of the UCI Women’s Water Polo team.
‘Coming out of halftime [CSULB] had a lot of the momentum going. They scored two quick goals,’ Klatt said.
After gaining a one-player advantage on their next possession because of an exclusion foul, Klatt called another time-out in an attempt to get the most out of the power play.
However, CSULB proved they could hold a lead as they prevented the Anteaters from scoring at this critical juncture in the match. UCI tried to rally around the inspiring play of sophomore goalie Kelly Woodbury who had 11 blocked shots for the day.
However, CSULB’s high national ranking proved to be well-deserved as they finished strong for an 11-7 victory.
Despite the tough loss, the Anteaters had some positive experiences to take away from the match. UCI’s leading goal scorer, Robyn Kaake, had three goals in the match. Kaake has now scored in nine consecutive matches. Kaake, only a sophomore, leads a young Anteater squad that hopes to build a solid foundation on strong performances against tough competition such as CSULB.
‘I think we have a little more room to grow, but we did really well. We’ve got a young team and they’re playing really hard,’ Kaake said. ‘It’s good to go against good opponents to let our players get experience.’