In the last two home games at the Anteater Aquatics Complex this season, the No. 5 UC Irvine women’s water polo team (17-7, 3-1) split even this past weekend, winning against No. 6 Hawai’i (13-8, 2-2) and losing a close game to No. 11 UC Davis (16-12, 2-3).
Looking to continue their winning streak and clinch a top seed in the upcoming Big West Tournament, two Anteater seniors, goalkeeper Jillian Yocum and utility player Danielle Warde, shined for their team with impressive performances against Hawai’i and had their Senior Day on Sunday against UC Davis.
UC Irvine 7-6 Hawai’i
On Saturday afternoon, the Anteaters defeated the No. 6 Rainbow Wahine of Hawai’i to a score of 7-6 in a game that went down to the wire. The senior duo of Yocum and Warde led their team to edge a victory over a gritty Hawai’i team. Yocum had 10 saves on the day, one of which sealed the game for the ‘Eaters in the final seconds against Hawai’i. Warde scored two goals for UCI to edge the narrow victory and extend their winning streak to eight.
Irvine set the tone early in the first quarter, scoring two goals without allowing one from the Rainbow Wahine. Five minutes into the game, Warde scored her first goal off a steal on the defensive end and a shot with only the Hawai’i goalkeeper to beat. In the closing seconds of the first period, junior center McKenna Mitchell shot a 25 meter prayer shot to beat the buzzer and gave UCI the 2-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
One of the many saves that Yocum had came early in the second period, when she blocked a penalty shot by Hawai’i to keep the Wahine scoreless. The Irvine defense performed well in the first half, as they did not allow Hawai’i to score after two periods of play. In the closing seconds of the second period, junior Hanna Lancaster scored a 10 meter lob shot over the Hawai’i goalkeeper with 11 seconds left to extend the Anteater lead to three.
Action was aplenty in the third quarter, as there were seven goals made in between the two teams. UCI quickly scored early in the third period, but were immediately answered by the Wahine with two goals to cut the lead to 5-2 with 3:41 left in the period. Hawai’i took advantage of many power plays against Irvine as they scored two goals off exclusions in the third. A flurry of offense by both teams quickly followed and saw the third quarter end with Hawai’i sophomore Chloe Barr cut the ‘Eater lead, 6-4, heading into the last quarter.
With a score by Warde coming in with 7:28 left in the game, UCI’s lead seemed secure, but Hawai’i never let up and had a two goal swing with momentum on their side heading into the closing minutes.
Irvine leaned on their star goalkeeper to defend their lead against Hawai’i’s late rally. UCI would head into senior day against the UC Davis Aggies being undefeated in conference play and a eight game winning streak.
UC Davis 6-5 UC Irvine
Sunday’s game saw Irvine come out of the gates strong and take a 3-0 lead. In the closing seconds of the first period, Davis scored off a penalty to prevent the shutout and make the game competitive.
Davis, being a more physical opponent than Hawai’i, constantly pressured Irvine, making it tough to get shots off. Anteater Mitchell scored her second goal of the game with 5:45 left in the second period off an Aggie exclusion to increase the lead to 4-1. Two scores from Aggie juniors Sammi Murphy and Ariel Arcidiacono cut the ‘Eater lead to one heading into the third quarter.
Momentum then went Davis’ way, as they scored four unanswered goals, including the two from the third period, to give them the one point lead with 4:40 left in the third. Anteater sophomore Destene Albers stopped the dry spell for Irvine with her goal to tie it all up at 5-5, heading into the last period of regulation.
Early into the fourth period, Aggie senior Elsie Fullerton scored her second goal on the day to give her team the one point lead with 7:22 left in the game. This time it was UC Davis who relied on their goalkeeper, senior Jillian Wilding, to preserve the lead to pull off the upset against the number one team in the conference.
Irvine had many opportunities in the closing minutes of the game, but it was Wilding who shined bright to pull out the victory on the road. The loss marks Irvine’s second conference loss in a five-year span.
“We’ve been playing poorly and we escaped with a victory yesterday and it finally came back to grab us today,” said UCI head coach Dan Klatt. “I think sometimes in sports you need to lose in order to re-gather yourself and become the best you can be.”
Sunday’s loss was the first conference loss for coach Klatt’s team; they look forward to face rival Long Beach State on Thursday to secure a top spot heading into the postseason.
The game against Davis was the ‘Eaters’ senior day, being Jillian Yocum and Danielle Warde’s last game at home. Yocum is second all-time in UCI history with 873 total career saves.
Warde places fourth in Anteater history with 192 career goals.
Their talent and leadership will be missed after this season as the duo heads to their last Big West Tournament.
“It’s going to be really important how we react as a team the next couple of days,” said Warde. “A loss like this can only fuel us to do better going into conference.”