After beating Loyola Marymount University 10-6, the UC Irvine Men’s Water Polo team came close to beating top-ranked UCLA at the Southern California Men’s Water Polo Tournament. However, after UCLA came back to force overtime, two bad passes and a failed face-off caused the Anteaters to lose 9-7 at the Anteater Aquatics Center, Sept. 17.
‘It’s a hard-working team. I think they want to be good, they want to improve. We’ve got some talented players on the team,’ said UCI Head Coach Marc Hunt.
The UCI Men’s Water Polo team is ranked eighth nationally. 14 of the top 16 teams in the country were competing at the tournament.
‘This tournament sets the stage for the entire season,’ Hunt said.
Despite the Anteaters’ sudden collapse to UCLA, senior drivers Nate White and Dreason Barry showed their offensive strength by scoring three goals each within the first three quarters.
The tandem’s first quarter goals gave UCI a 3-2 lead over the Bruins. However, UCLA caught up at the beginning of the second quarter. After Barry scored his third goal to give the Anteaters the lead again later in the quarter, Barry committed a foul and his exclusion allowed UCLA to score on the power play.
In the third quarter, the favor was returned as a two-handed foul against Barry caused an ejection of a UCLA player.
After play resumed, UCI got a quick goal when Barry passed to White who blasted his third goal. The intense and aggressive play between the Bruins and Anteaters amounted in UCI senior Curt Merlo’s ejection. With the one-man advantage, UCLA capitalized and scored its fifth goal. The viciousness climaxed as another UCLA player was ejected from the game. Then, junior driver Cole Bitters scored, giving UCI a 7-5 lead to end the third quarter.
Although UCLA managed to match the Anteaters’ goal total at the end of the fourth quarter, UCI still had strong performances from individual players, such as sophomore Matt Garcia who had 15 saves in goal.
Driver La’O, a UCI freshman recruit from Ventura, said, ‘I’m surprised that we didn’t win. Our guys came in confident.’
Junior driver and starter Andrew Dunn said, ‘toward the end I think we just got tired.’
Although the Anteaters matched UCLA goal-for-goal for the first four quarters of the game, the last six minutes of the match were deflating as the Anteaters couldn’t hold the lead against the top-ranked Bruins.
UCLA may have more skilled players, but the new recruits and maturing talent for the Anteaters provides them with the potential to eventually hold off teams like UCLA.
‘We came together and played well as a team,’ said junior two-meter driver Tim Hutten. ‘We’ve been inconsistent in the past. … We were all playing as individuals but today we stepped up and played as a whole.’
Scoring four goals, Hutten was the lead scorer in the first game against LMU. Hutten managed to score five meters outside the goal box