Heading into the last stretch of the regular season, the No. 7 UC Irvine men’s water polo team (13-9, 2-5) aims to get the highest possible seed going into the MPSF conference tournament on Nov. 20 in Los Angeles.
“These next three [conference] games will determine for us, probably, between the places of about fourth and seventh,” said UCI head coach Marc Hunt, “We’re aiming for the highest seed we can attain, and that’s really what this focus now becomes, to win the conference and get to the NCAA championships”.
After routing Concordia in a non-conference game Wednesday night, 25-9, the ‘Eaters clashed against MPSF newcomers San Jose State (3-22, 0-8) on Saturday at the Anteater Aquatics Complex, whose program was reinstated after 34 years. The ‘Eaters got a much-needed 11-3 conference win over the Spartans to give them consecutive wins heading into the matchup against No. 4 USC (17-4, 5-2) on Sunday.
“It’s a conference win,” said Hunt of his team’s performance against SJSU. “We needed to secure that to really move forward and get the best seed we can going into the tournament.”
Spartan sophomore goalkeeper Matej Matijevic did his part in defending the cage with 18 saves, but the SJSU defense could not overcome the UCI offense. Six different ‘Eaters scored in the match, with junior driver Lovre Milos leading all scorers with four, senior Pablo Carballo and sophomore Matt Skinner with braces apiece and senior Jared Osborn and junior Brock Ivanovic with goals of their own. Senior goalkeeper Dylan Peterson also contributed to the strong defensive showing for UCI with 13 saves.
Business was taken care of early against the Spartans as the ‘Eaters opened up with a four-goal lead in the first period. Milos, who scored four goals in the contest, knotted half of his points in the first quarter. In his second goal, Milos scored off a skip shot with 22 seconds left to put the ‘Eaters up 4-0 heading into the second period of play.
It took the Spartans nearly 15 minutes to score as sophomore Igor Miljan stopped the Anteaters’ 6-0 run to conclude the second quarter. The ‘Eaters opened up the third quarter with another four-goal run to give them their highest lead of the match at 10-1. SJSU quickly answered a Milos goal with a goal of their own with 22 seconds left in the period to cut the deficit to eight (10-2) heading into the last period of play. The lead was too much to overcome, as both teams exchanged one goal apiece to give the ‘Eaters an 11-3 victory over the Spartans.
“This is fun,” said Hunt, “These [last weeks] is what we coach the other 49 weeks out of the year, we’re looking forward to it.”
The ‘Eaters will return to the Anteater Aquatics Complex after their game on the road against USC for Senior Night to play against the No. 9 Pepperdine Waves. That match will conclude the 2015-2016 regular season.