The No. 12 UC Irvine women’s water polo team finished the first of its two-day invitational on Saturday at the Anteater Aquatics Complex, first falling to No. 5 California 7-10 and bouncing back with a hard-fought 7-6 overtime win against No.13 Long Beach State.
They are now second in the Big West Conference with a strong 7-3 record.
Although the Anteaters started off strong against the Golden Bears, controlling almost three quarters of the game, they squandered an important potential win. After maintaining the lead in the second and third periods, the Anteaters began to lose their control in the final period, allowing the Golden Bears to score four unanswered goals and walk away with a 10-7 victory.
“I think [California] is a really physical team. Our conditioning is great, but when you’re wrestling [with them] for 3 [periods] in the game, it takes a toll on you,” said senior Julia Fancher, who earned the Big West Player of the Week award in early February. “It is really easy to get deflated when you’re tired, playing a good team and thinking that you have to catch up again. I think that’s kind of what happened to us.”
After losing a heartbreaker to California, the Anteaters refused to quit, considering they spent most of their week’s practice focused on the Golden Bears.
Instead, they brought an invigorated intensity into their second game against Long Beach State, squeezing out a close 7-6 win in overtime, continuing their fourth consecutive year in dominating the 49ers.
The Anteaters were close to losing their long win streak against the 49ers when sophomore Cortney Collyer fired a shot on goal to cut the 49er’s lead to 6-5 in the fourth period with 3:08 remaining. After trailing to the 49ers for 10 minutes, senior Julia Fancher admitted that she was a bit nervous, but still kept a positive attitude.
“I was a little bit nervous. But I had the mindset that there was no way we were going to lose that game. We haven’t lost to Long Beach since the beginning of my freshmen year . [Long Beach] are our rivals and I wouldn’t have allowed them to cut our streak against them,” Fancher said.
Shortly after, junior Kat Plummer tied the match at 6-6, drilling a precise, accurate shot with 18 seconds remaining, sending it to overtime. Just when the Anteater fans thought the game was close to a bitter ending, the women’s water polo team fought back from the bottom to avoid an upset.
The Anteaters would continue to stifle the 49ers offense in overtime, which allowed junior Erin Kiene to take the lead at 7-6 with 1:15 remaining in the first overtime period.
The Anteaters held onto the ball strategically for the duration of the second overtime period and were able to get the win against the 49ers.
For Head Coach Dan Klatt, having the heart to continue was the key factor in battling from a deficit.
“I’m all about having the heart and will to do things. I told the girls that they [had] to put it all out there. I told them to play like they wanted to win the game. Apparently, it finally registered and they started playing like they wanted it. We ended up holding them scoreless for 14 minutes,” Klatt said.
Despite losing to California earlier in the afternoon, Coach Klatt felt that winning against Long Beach State allowed the women’s water polo team to learn during crucial situations like overtime periods. The game against Long Beach was their first overtime game this year.
“I think this morning we came out pretty pumped. We gave [California] a pretty good fight,” Coach Klatt said. “I’m impressed with the way the girls played today except for in the fourth period when we couldn’t finish. But in the other three quarters, we played pretty well. It’s good to play overtime games so we can learn how to win in those situations.”
However, the bigger goal for the women’s water polo team lies ahead of them: to win the Big West Tournament. After moving from the Mountain Pacific conference last year to be in the first ever Big West Conference for women’s water polo, they still remain optimistic about their expectations and end results.
“We want to be the first [Big West] conference champions,” said Julia Fancher. “We would like to go undefeated in our conference because if you look back at our history against teams in the Big West now we haven’t really lost to them [in the previous years]. So technically, we could have been consecutive Big West champions.”
Coach Klatt also shares the same sentiments. “I think we have the best team in terms of the well-roundedness of our players this year. If we can stay healthy, we can be in a pretty good situation to be very successful.”
The Lady Anteaters travel down south on the 5 freeway to San Diego to take on UC San Diego and San Diego State on Friday and Saturday next week in conference match ups.