No. 8 UC Irvine Men’s Water Polo (9-2, 1-0) held their first home games of the season when they defeated No.13 UC San Diego (6-7) on Thursday, 17-8 and conference foes No. 7 Long Beach State (4-6, 0-2) on Saturday at the Anteater Aquatics Complex, 6-5. The game against the 49ers marked the Anteaters’ first MPSF conference game of the season.
No. 8 UC Irvine 17-8 No. 13 UC San Diego
In their home opener Thursday night, UCI easily outscored the Tritons, 17-8. The offense was well-balanced, as three different Anteaters earned hat tricks, coming from junior Kyle Trush, junior Lovre Milos and sophomore Matt Skinner. In all, six different Anteaters scored in the home opener, which led to an easy win heading into conference play.
Other ‘Eaters who contributed to the rout, with one brace each, were senior Larson Pfeil, junior Antoine Lena and sophomore Ryan Warde.
Offense was aplenty for the Anteaters’ first home game of the season as they came out the gate scoring five unanswered goals in the first period.
“I thought we came out strong,” said head coach Marc Hunt, “We came out executing immediately [against] some of the opportunities that they gave us, and we capitalized.”
Irvine scored with ease in the first half by taking advantage of exclusions against UCSD and running the fast break to perfection off of Triton turnovers. UCSD managed to stop the run in the last minute of the first period as senior Tyler Mancuso took advantage of a UCI turnover and scored from a shot inside. Irvine soon answered back with 11 seconds remaining in the period and scored from the perimeter off of a power play, making the score 6-1. Both teams scored four goals apiece in the second period to end the first half 10-5. The Anteaters would put the Tritons away in the third period scoring five goals, making the deficit too much to overcome.
No. 8 UC Irvine 6-5 No. 7 Long Beach
Gaining momentum off the 17-8 win against UCSD, the Anteaters opened up conference play against their rival Long Beach State. The Anteaters battled the 49ers in a close matchup that went down to the wire. In the closing two minutes, UCI clamped down on defense to earn a 6-5 victory.
It was a goalkeeper showdown, as UCI senior Dylan Peterson and LBSU senior Pavo Ljepopio logged double digit saves, at 16 and 19 respectively.
Ljepopio was tested early on against the ‘Eaters’ fast breaks and counterattacks. UCI wasted no time getting in the back of the net as Trush capitalized off a 49er turnover and scored on the counterattack to put the ‘Eaters up in less than one minute into the game. Long Beach picked up the intensity on the defensive end, giving the Anteaters trouble with keep possession and commit turnovers. The 49ers found the equalizer with 3:49 left in the period when they found freshman Chandler Kaltenbach off an inside feed to score.
Things turned choppy in front of the boisterous crowd as the teams were trading fouls and exclusion calls that set up scoring opportunities for both parties. The 49ers cashed in on a power play with 45 seconds left in the first period as sophomore Lovro Miocevic scored to put his team up 2-1. The Anteaters answered right back in the closing seconds of the quarter as Lena shot from the perimeter to knot the score at 2-2.
Irvine used the second period to give themselves a two-point cushion heading into the half as they held the 49ers to a scoreless second period.
In the opening minute of the period, Milos found the back of the cage from an outlet pass from Peterson to give them the lead at 3-2. With five minutes left in the half, Warde added to the Anteater lead as he rifled an outside shot into the cage and scored on a power play against Long Beach. A couple of key blocks by Peterson in the closing moments of the half kept the 49ers without a goal in the period and preserved the Anteaters’ 4-2 lead.
Five minutes into the third period, senior Jared Osborn scored for UCI, making it their third unanswered goal and giving them their largest lead of the day at 5-2. Long Beach did not let up as they scored 20 seconds after to stop the bleeding and cut the deficit to two goals, 5-3. In the closing minute of the period, an inside look from senior Pablo Carballo to Skinner answered back and gave Irvine the 6-3 lead heading into the fourth. The three point lead seemed to be a safe cushion for the Anteaters given their strong defensive performance throughout the game, but a late swing by Long Beach put the ‘Eaters on their heels.
49er freshman Keegan Wicken scored in the opening minute of the fourth quarter in a power play to cut the deficit to 6-4. Kaltenbach would score his second goal of the day with the shot clock winding down, catching the back of the cage and cutting the lead to one. The late two-goal swing, however, was not enough to force overtime as the closing minutes saw both teams struggle to hold possession and beat the two keepers that were defending the net.
“The defense stood up”, said Hunt. “That’s what the team has to buy into, that the defense is going to win the game for you.”
The win serves as their first conference game as they will return to the Anteater Aquatics Complex on Oct. 25 to continue their MPSF run against No.1 UCLA.
“Our goal is to beat everybody,” said Hunt. “That’s what we talked about in the beginning of the season, and if we’re going to do that, we have to be great defensively for four quarters of the game.”
UCI will head to Malibu this weekend to compete in the SoCal Invitational, where they will open play against Pepperdine.