While the night did not go as smoothly as the No. 7 UCI men’s water polo team had hoped, the Anteaters still managed to emerge victorious over the tenacious No. 9 Pepperdine team 12-11 last Friday at the Anteater Aquatics Complex.
“I thought we didn’t play up to our expectations,” said head coach Marc Hunt. “I thought we allowed the game to be a little bit closer than we would’ve liked. However, even in not playing our best, to still squeeze out a win, I have to be happy about that. Leaving the pool with the W was what the goal was, and we made it happen.”
As the final home game of the regular season, seniors Kyle Trush, Pablo Carballo, Larson Pfeil, Dylan Peterson and Chris Swieca were each honored prior to Friday night’s contest.
“It’s an amazing feeling. We’ve been playing here for four years,” said Carballo of the team’s victory. “This is the best scenario: we got a win, we’re playing under the light with [each other] representing UCI . . . it feels really good.”
Junior driver Lovre Milos spearheaded the Anteater attack with a match high five goals, all of which came in the second half. Behind Milos was Trush and Carballo with a hat trick and a brace respectively, followed by Pfeil and sophomore Ryan Warde with a goal apiece. Peterson anchored the Anteaters defensively as goalkeeper with seven saves, a tally higher than the six accumulated by Pepperdine goalkeeper freshman Kyle Krutenat.
Both teams traded goals throughout the night, with neither able to distance themselves from the other by more than one goal until the fourth quarter.
A saved penalty shot by Peterson with 6:31 left to play in the second quarter kept the match at a 2-2 deadlock, but the Waves managed to head into the intermission with a 6-5 lead.
After a quiet first half, Milos erupted with three of his five goals coming in the third quarter, and a goal by Pfeil at 1:06 gave UCI a 9-8 edge before the start of the final quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Anteaters managed to distance themselves from the Waves with three unanswered goals to take a 12-8 lead, courtesy of Carballo at the 7:03 mark and back to back goals by Milos at 6:20 and 5:40.
Although the match had seemed all but over, Pepperdine responded with a three-goal rally of their own to close the deficit to 12-11 with 1:12 left in regulation and eliciting a UCI timeout.
With dueling chants of “Let’s go Irvine!” and “Let’s go Waves” punctuating the night air, the Waves had a chance to tie the game in their final possession but a save by Peterson with 21 seconds remaining clinched the victory for the Anteaters.
Following the match, Carballo echoed coach Hunt’s sentiment that the team failed to put their best foot forward against Pepperdine.
“Our game plan was coming in hard and playing our best game,” said Carballo. “We didn’t come out that hard, then we talked to our coach, [who] tried to get us moving . . . it didn’t really work out very well, but at the end we got a W, which is what matters.”
Having now concluded the regular season, the Anteaters will look to demonstrate the lessons they have learned from the 24 games of the 2015 season when competing at the MPSF Championship at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center at the University of Southern California (USC) on Nov. 20.
“I think we definitely have really run the gamut on learning some lessons. We’ve experienced some good ups and some good lows, and that’s what you want: [to] have that experience going into the conference tournament,” said Hunt. “I like the road that we’ve taken to get here.”
With the win, the Anteaters have clinched the seventh seed in the MPSF Tournament and will face off against 10th seed San Jose State in a play-in match early Friday morning. The Spartans finished the season with a 0-10 record in the MPSF (3-24 overall), and fell to the Anteaters by a margin of 11-3 last Saturday on November 7.
“That’s the first business that’s up to bat, and then we like the possibilities of the bracket after that as well,” said Hunt.