First, the women of the UC Irvine women’s water polo team beat No. 10 Arizona State. Then, they beat No. 8 UC Santa Barbara. And, for the first time ever, they became ranked in the top-10 nationally.
On Saturday afternoon, the seventh ranked Anteaters (17-12, 6-6) faced the prospect of losing an important home match against the much lower-ranked CSU Northridge Matadors (12-19, 1-11), but were able to fend them off for a 12-8 win.
Four minutes and 53 seconds into the third quarter, Northridge’s Heather Van Hermet put up a point for the Matadors. For a harried 30 seconds of counterattack, the Matadors forged a tie with UCI 5-5.
‘Today was kind of a rough day,’ said freshman UCI goalie Megan Braun. ‘It wasn’t a great performance, but we ended up winning. We definitely won by a lot but not in the style we would have liked.’
Saturday’s performance against Northridge should have been a cakewalk, but instead created stress where there should have been domination.
‘The good thing is … we kept playing,’ Braun said. ‘We didn’t get frustrated [or] shut down mentally.’
Braun attributed the Anteater problems to ‘mistakes on defense.’ ‘We picked it up in the second half and ended up throwing out a win,’ she said. ‘But with our conference tournament coming up it would have just been better … to show our dominance in the home pool.’
Goalkeeper Lauren Machanis served as one of the backbones of the Anteater team. She made 10 saves in Saturday’s game, maintaining a defensive stand with a weakened Anteater defense.
The game was the last in the regular season before the MPSF tournament, which UCI will host. The UCI women are seeded sixth in the tournament with their best regular season ever.
Anteater Head Coach Dan Klatt is largely responsible for the team’s strong performances this year.
‘I wouldn’t say Dan’s a slave driver,’ Braun said. ‘He’s definitely … a big proponent of conditioning. He definitely expects a lot of us and I think that’s good because … I think we’re well-prepared going into the game.’
Junior utility Robyn Kaake scored a personal record of five goals during the game.
With the end of the regular season, the MPSF tournament looms over the Anteater women’s team. Saturday’s performance was a warning: If 12th-seeded CSUN can challenge UCI’s defense (and thus take UCI’s momentum), then the Anteaters will need to be extra careful when facing high-rollers such as UCLA.
In UCI’s favor is their incredible persistence. In Friday’s game, for instance, the team was barely edged out 9-8 in quadruple overtime by No. 5 Loyola Marymount.
At the same time, however, matches against top-seeded USC and UCLA have been disastrous. Despite the efforts of the Anteater team, they will be heavy underdogs in a potential match against either team in the tournament.
However, after their March 31 match at USC, the Anteaters reassessed their game. Since then, their record has only bloomed.
As the Anteaters progress, their main strength will consist of solid team, rather than individual, play, hopefully giving the team a strong team dynamic.
Freshman two-meter Gianna Rassi serves as a strong center on a team with an offensive weak point. Klatt hopes to develop the team’s two-meter game in order to develop a two-fold threat.
UCI will take on USCB Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in the first round of the MPSF tournament at the Anteater Aquatics Complex.