The No. 8 ranked UC Irvine men’s water polo team kicked off the 2009-2010 season winning five of their first six games, four of those wins with win differentials in the double digits. However, they received quite the wake-up call the next week losing to the top team in the nation, University of Southern California (USC) 11-4.
The Anteaters kicked off their season competing in the Inland Empire Classic at the University of Redlands where they went undefeated in the tournament notching victories over Chapman University and the University of Redlands, 21-8, respectively. UCI also gained wins over Claremont Mudd Scripps University, 19-3, and over Pomona-Pitzer, 19-2.
While the Inland Empire Classic served as an adequate warm-up for the highly regarded Anteaters, the real test came during the first rounds of the NorCal Tournament in Stanford.
UCI drew Long Beach State, ranked No. 9 in the nation, in the first round of the tournament. The ‘Eaters fell behind fast in the first quarter, 2-1, and were not able to capture the lead all the way up until more than halfway through the game. However, in the third quarter, senior Cole Bielskies helped put the Eaters ahead, 6-5, by pocketing one of his four goals. Bielskis led all scorers in the game with his four goals.
UC Irvine stretched out its lead early in the fourth, 9-6, and despite a late two-goal run by Long Beach State in the fourth, the Anteaters were able to hold 49ers off until the end of the game thanks to phenomenal goalkeeping by junior Matt Johnson. Johnson snagged a season high of 11 saves against the 49ers, and the Anteaters pulled out their closest win of the season, defeating the 49ers 9-8.
The Anteater victory pitted UC Irvine up against the top ranked team in the country, USC, who handed UCI their first loss of the season.
Irvine again got off to a slow start falling behind USC 1-3 in the first quarter. Unlike their previous match against the 49ers, the Anteaters were never able to recover the deficit against the Trojans. The Trojans increased the deficit by holding the Anteaters scoreless in the second period, 3-0, and the third period, 4-0. By the end of the third quarter the Irvine faced a daunting 10-1 lead.
While the Eaters did make a small run in the fourth quarter, it was too little too late against the veteran Trojan team who held the Anteaters off to move on to the semi-finals of the tournament. Defeating UCI puts USC on track to win their fifth consecutive NorCal Tournament title.
UCI went on to play Loyola Marymount in the consolation semi-final match on Sunday, falling to the Lions 7-6 in overtime.
“We didn’t play badly, we just didn’t execute well,” Head Coach Marc Hunt said. “We didn’t put away our shots. ”
The ‘Eaters finished the tournament by defeating Pepperdine 9-6 to claim 7th place. Bielskies continued his strong play by scoring a career-high five goals.
“We got off to a strong start but we have a long way to go,” Hunt said. “When we hit November, 90 percent of the teams in our conference are in the top ten [in the nation]. We really need to make strides and improve and play the best polo we can by November.”