If playing two of the nation’s top 10 teams doesn’t faze the No. 6 UC Irvine men’s water polo team, what will? The Anteaters swept their weekend matchups against No. 5 UCSB on Sunday and No. 8 Long Beach State on Friday. Not only did they defeat their prolific opponents, they handled them, outscoring UCSB and Long Beach State a combined 23-12.
UCI 11, UCSB 5
The Anteaters travelled to UCSB on Sunday afternoon. They may have been playing hours away from Orange County, but the Anteaters performed as if the game was played at their home pool.
UCI took a 6-3 lead into halftime, but had no plans of showing mercy in the second half, outscoring UCSB 5-2 in the third quarter. The UCI defense allowed senior goalie Matt Johnson to have an easy day in the net. Johnson only saw eight shots on goal from the Gauchos, saving three and allowing five goals.
Leading the way with three goals apiece were seniors Brandon Johnson and Griffin Lerman. Their six goals were the difference as the Anteaters defeated UCSB 11-5.
LBSU 7, UCI 12
Friday night might as well have been referred to as senior night because the fourth years on the squad did a majority of the work for the sixth ranked Anteaters. UCI welcomed Long Beach State into Anteater Pool, where they dominated the 49ers in the first half. The two teams entered the contest with 5-2 records, each hoping to gain an early season advantage on the other in the NCAA rankings, which are decorated with Southern California teams.
UCI came away with a 4-2 lead after the first quarter. From there, they continued to apply pressure. Taking a lead into the intermission, the ’Eaters had no plans to relinquish their 8-3 advantage. Lerman had a night to remember, scoring a career-high six goals in the 12-7 victory.
Fellow seniors Tom Kruip, Kyle Kruip, Brandon Johnson and Doug Lindsey, along with junior Max Parraque and freshman Mitch Wise added goals of their own. In the net, Matt Johnson recorded a season-high 14 saves. Locking down the victory with an all-around offensive and defensive performance, Irvine was a well-oiled machine against the 49ers. An impressive performance against The Beach improved their record to 6-2.
With an upcoming weekend of matchups at UCLA’s SoCal Invitational, the Anteaters will continue to be tested by highly touted opponents. What is apparent, though, is that if UC Irvine’s men’s water polo team demonstrates the caliber of play that they exemplified this past weekend, the rest of the nation’s top teams should be wary.
The ’Eaters will face No. 13 St. Francis on Oct. 2. Following the SoCal Invitational, the team has a schedule loaded with a plethora of formidable top-10 nationally ranked opponents, including Pepperdine, Long Beach State, UCLA, California, Pacific, Stanford, USC and UCSB. A tall task, but the Anteaters just might be up for it.