After riding on a five-game winning streak and its last win against 16th-ranked California State University Long Beach just two days before, the ninth-ranked UC Irvine women’s water polo team fell 7-5 to 13th-ranked California State University Northridge at the Anteater Aquatics Complex on Saturday. With the loss, UCI failed to grab sole poession of the regular season conference title, but will share that distinction with UC Davis and CSUN. The Anteaters now drop to a record of 4-1 (20-9 overall) in the Big West Conference.
The Anteaters started off strong with a goal from junior Erin Kiene within the first two minutes, taking the lead at 1-0. The ‘Eaters then found themselves in an uncomfortable situation when Matador Alison Pierce scored three unanswered goals, allowing CSUN to take a commanding 3-1 lead with 5:19 remaining in the second period.
The Anteaters then tied the game in the beginning of the third period at 4-4 with a goal from junior Kat Plummer. After the Matadors broke the tie with a 5-4 lead, senior Ashling Taylor drilled an accurate shot on goal to tie the game up at 5-5 with 4:08 remaining. The Matadors returned with two unanswered goals, one in the third and one in the fourth period, to walk away with an upset victory over the Anteaters.
“We didn’t shoot well today. We were a little stiff and didn’t really make the plays we needed to. Overall, I think today wasn’t our day,” said Head Coach Dan Klatt.
Coach Klatt was indeed correct about the Anteater’s inability to accurately shoot the balls in the afternoon. The Anteaters attempted 30 shots, while the Matadors were able to score seven shots off of just 20 attempts.
The Anteaters’ stunning loss can be attributed to the team’s minimal rest period within the last two days after edging Long Beach State on Thursday. CSUN, on the other hand, was able to prepare for a solid week before meeting the Anteaters, allowing them to rejuvenate and play one of their best games.
“It definitely is a factor when one team has more preparation time. We only had one day to prepare for [CSUN], while [CSUN] had a week to prepare for us, so I think they walked in with a slight advantage,” Coach Klatt said.
As difficult as it was to fathom the hopes of sole possesion of the Big West title being snatched away from them, it was even more difficult for the seniors, who played their last home game of the season at Anteater Aquatics Complex.
“It’s a little hard to end out our season like this. I feel bitter inside, but it’s not going to get us anywhere,” said senior Gianna Rossi, who was named Big West Player of the Week on Thursday. “The only thing I can do is look forward to the Big West Tournament.”
Rossi is one of five seniors who will be leaving next year; Julian Fancher, Ashling Taylor, Sarah Frost and Janée Walsh are also leaving.
“It’s tough to see [the seniors] walk out this way. They’re a great senior class [with] good leadership,” Coach Klatt said. “It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get the last win at home for the seniors, but hopefully this game can serve as a wake-up call.”
The Anteaters have already begun to put Saturday’s loss behind them.
“I’d rather lose now, to be honest, than lose in the tournament. If we can just play good defense, the offense will come in place,” Rossi said.
The Big West Tournament begins next Friday. As far as how the number-one seed would play out between UCI and UC Davis in the tournament, it would be determined by a series of coin tosses. But even then, it shouldn’t bother the Anteaters.
“[Determining the number-one seed] is definitely not in our control,” Rossi said. “We just need to rest up, get out there and start executing. If we do just that, everything will fall in place.”