In a Nov. 10 match with the No. 3 UCLA Bruins, the UC Irvine Men’s Water Polo team, ranked sixth, struggled for much of the match to find rhythm offensively.
And then something happened. It might have been that there haven’t been as many fans cheering on the Anteaters since UCI played Stanford two years ago. It might have been the bark of military-like commands by Head Coach Marc Hunt. It might even have been junior 2M Tim Hutten’s right arm, which started glowing magically halfway into the third quarter.
Whatever it was, it took a likely 5-2 defeat for the Anteaters and turned it into one of the greatest matches in recent memory and a 8-7 victory in front of a large crowd at Anteater Aquatics Complex.
After the game, Hunt was seen hugging one of his players in joy.
‘We came out kind of flat,’ Hunt said. ‘But we had good opportunities we didn’t miss. … We made a couple adjustments and we ended up making the right decisions.’
The third quarter of the game was key for the Anteaters. Hutten played both strong defense and offense during the quarter. Halfway in, he intercepted a shot and brought UCI (15-10, 5-2 MPSF) into an offensive swing.
With 25 seconds left, Hutten scored brilliantly as the UCLA goalkeeper, who had jumped to block his shot, succumbed to the forces of gravity and Hutten’s fake. The last-minute goal brought the UCLA lead down to one going into the fourth quarter.
Players like Hutten picked up the scoring slack for senior driver Dreason Barry, UCI’s second leading scorer, as UCLA (17-6, 3-2) did everything it could to shut him down.
Barry didn’t score until the fourth quarter. Thanks in large part to heavy crowd participation, the Anteaters broke through their initial awkwardness. It seemed that the players and the crowd fueled each other. Support resonated through the stall-beating, hand-waving, full-screaming audience.
‘[UCLA] came out really fast and they got a few goals there,’ Barry said. ‘Then later on the crowd really got into it and that was great. That fueled us later on. I think we got a burst of energy.’
Hutten attributed the win to flexible game-play on the part of the Anteaters. These changes turned UCLA’s aggressiveness into passive play.
‘Well, we got off to a slow start, but the key thing for us was making little adjustments,’ Hutten said. ‘You know, we came out a little flat and we had to make little adjustments … and that’s where it helped us to win the game.’
As the fourth quarter drew to a close, the game took on a dramatic pitch. UCLA made two successful shots against the Anteaters during this period, both right into the center of the goal with a packed defense. When they hit home, they were received with silent disappointment from the crowd.
But then came some reprieves. A quick score by Hutten returned the Bruins insult, and Barry’s successful penalty shot at 4:30 made things even closer.
At 4:22, Barry took an interception from the Bruins and drove to the UCLA goal under the chant of ‘Go Barry!’ He missed in front of the screaming crowd, but just one minute later the Anteaters intercepted another goal and scored within 15 seconds, erasing the lead that UCLA had built for the first three-and-a-half-quarters of the match.
After some more strong defensive play by the Anteaters, and a good block by goalkeeper Joe Wynn, it seemed like the Bruins would recapture the lead. Having punctured the Anteater defense, and the crowd screaming in distress, UCLA’s shot bounced harmlessly off of the UCI goalpost.
With 40 seconds remaining and the score tied, UCI approached threateningly into UCLA’s zone. Senior Chris Peters rose out of the water and fired a successful shot through a crowded Bruin defense. The dramatic goal brought the crowd to its feet and gave the Anteaters an 8-7 lead.
The Bruins were able to force a power play with 32 seconds left, but were unable to convert, giving UCI a thrilling upset victory.
UCI next plays at UC Santa Barbara on the road on Nov. 20.
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