When two of your best players are redshirting and 11 of the 17 players on the roster are sophomores or younger, success is hardly going to come easily. Facing UCLA, the third-ranked team in the country, in their home opener isn’t going to help either.
This was the case for the UCI men’s water polo team Friday night as they were outplayed, out-muscled and outsmarted by a more dominant and experienced Bruin squad, 15-4.
The Bruins jumped out to an early 4-0 lead in the first quarter and never looked back. Their relentless offense scored from up close, afar and from almost every angle imaginable against the young and inexperienced Irvine defense. The Anteaters put up little resistance throughout the game and almost went into halftime scoreless.
Finally, with 2:35 left in the second quarter, Irvine’s junior driver Colin Mello was awarded a penalty shot after he was submerged by a UCLA defender. Four meters away from the goal, Mello delivered the first score for the Anteaters when his shot went past Bruin goalie Will Didinger into the top right corner of the net.
Mello’s goal was one of the few highlights for the Anteaters as they trailed at the intermission 8-1.
The second half was not much better for the Anteaters (4-6) as the Bruins established their attackers in front of the net, leaving Irvine’s junior goalie Matt Garcia little chance of preventing the Bruin offense from scoring.
The Bruins were also able to generate numerous fast break opportunities which resulted in easy scoring chances as they out-swam the Anteaters down the length of the pool.
Mello, who leads the Anteater team with 30 goals on the season, finished the game with a team-high two goals. Freshman driver Kyle Baxter and sophomore Cole Bielskis added a goal apiece, while Garcia finished with six saves.
Even with the loss, UCI Head Coach Marc Hunt was pleased with his team’s performance against the highly talented Bruins.
‘[The game] was a great experience for a young team,’ Hunt said. ‘We lost between graduating and redshirting, I think, all our starters from last year. We got a young team, who lack high-level game experience. They need this type of experience.’
The eleventh-ranked Anteaters played the Bruins (5-1) tough in the third quarter allowing only two goals, while scoring two goals of their own. The third quarter has been the best eight minute stretch for the Anteaters this season as they have outscored opponents 26-16.
The two redshirts for UCI, seniors Tim Hutten and Cole Bitter, played major roles for the water polo team last season when they finished the year ranked fourth nationally. Hutten was one of Irvine’s best offensive stars scoring 64 goals last season and was honored as a second-team All-American, while Bitter added 24 goals.
‘They definitely bring leadership,’ Baxter said, speaking of Hutten and Bitter. ‘They are two of our seniors that provide a voice for our team.’
On the defensive side of the ball, the Anteaters had trouble controlling the potent Bruin offense, which has averaged nearly 13 goals per game.
‘You’re playing a team who is very experienced, against an inexperienced team,’ Hunt said. ‘So you are going to run into problems.’
UCLA finished the game scoring five of the final six goals, leaving any hopes of an Anteater comeback moot.
The Anteaters have lost two of their last three games and will look to climb back over the .500 mark with upcoming road games against UC Santa Barbara and Loyola Marymount.
‘What I like to see, and I think we have this, is a team of dedicated young players who want to build for the future and want to put the time in that they need to put in to be a good team,’ Hunt said.
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