Being without their head coach this spring break in Hawai’i, the No. 6 UC Irvine women’s water polo team was still able to secure two out of three games. The reunion with their coach proved to be at the right time as the ‘Eaters were set to defend home pool this past weekend against conference foes CSUN and UC Santa Barbara.
Head coach Dan Klatt was on national team duty during the break helping the U.S. women’s national team qualify for the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil with a chance to defend their gold medal.
“Adam [Krikorian] and I myself see water polo very similarly, so a lot of the things we’re teaching [at UCI] are exactly the same. Certainly, the speed is slower; we’re talking about the best players in the world, and then coming back to the collegiate league, but these girls are good athletes, and they can execute a lot of these skills,” said Klatt. “To be honest, I love coming back to UCI, and I love coming back here and seeing my girls, and it just energizes me.”
The ‘Eaters were able to fend off an early scare from the No. 25 Matadors to secure a 12-6 conference win at the Anteater Aquatics Complex on Saturday. After giving up a pair of scores to CSUN sophomore Madeleine Sanchez, the ‘Eaters responded with a five-goal run of their own and take a lead they would not surrender for the rest of the contest.
Eight different ‘Eaters scored in the match with junior Destene Albers, sophomore Keana Eldridge, senior Hanna Lancaster and sophomore Julie Sweica with pairs of goals apiece. Sanchez would score four for the Matadors (10-15, 0-1) while sophomore goalkeeper Niki Van Vugt was busy in front of the cage notching seven saves.
After falling to an early deficit, the ‘Eaters quickly answered back with a flurry of goals to take the 3-1 lead by the end of the first quarter. Albers would score both of her goals in the second period and push the ‘Eaters to a 6-3 advantage at the half. Irvine would pace themselves in scoring with three goals in both the third and fourth quarter to earn their first conference win of the season.
“We started slow, and that part was a little bit disappointing, because I just felt that we weren’t there mentally to begin with, but the good news is we dialed it back and got ourselves focused,” said Klatt. “The second group that came off the bench went in and gave us good energy and got us back up after the first quarter and we were able to surge forward.”
UC Santa Barbara
Irvine would be in store for another catch up game as the No. 14 Gauchos (12-11, 0-1) would earn a two-goal deficit and place the ‘Eaters in familiar territory. The ‘Eaters would once again rally behind sophomore Mary Brooks’ hat trick, to capture a 8-5 conference win at home.
In their first possession, the Gauchos were able to pound a shot into the back of the net to grab an early lead. The ‘Eaters would retaliate as Brooks would capitalize off a Gaucho exclusion to rifle in a cross cage shot attempt. Both teams would continue to trade perimeter shots to end the first period at a 2-2 stalemate. The Gauchos would score the lone two goals in the second period to take a 4-2 lead at the half. UCSB would exploit the ‘Eaters’ exclusion defense to convert all three power play chances in the first half.
“We still have some improvements to make, no question, but we want to be our best during our conference,” said Klatt. “Specifically, in our six-on-five defense, where we have a man down … we got to do a little bit better of a job there [and] we need to start better.”
UCI would come out in the second half guns blazing, scoring three unanswered goals to take the 5-4 lead with 3:13 left in the third period. Gaucho senior Bryn Hudson would score her second goal of the game, once again taking advantage of a power play to answer right back and tie the affair heading into the last quarter of play. The ‘Eaters would pounce on the Gaucho offensive mishaps down the stretch and score three unanswered in the final period of play to earn the ‘Eaters their second straight conference win.
“Neither game looked very good at the beginning this weekend. We got to figure out how to start a little bit better, but the thing to build off from this game is that we had some good plays in general [in front of the cage],” said Klatt. “Luck favors the well-prepared, and Anika [Nelson] was in good position and ready to help us out there and that was certainly helpful.”
Coach Klatt commemorates his team’s performance this season despite being down a couple of starters and having talented players redshirting this season.
“We are young, and I think that they are not totally sure of when are the right moments to get after it and how to be intense for a whole four quarter game, “ said Klatt. “We’re pretty thin [in rotation] so it made it for some people to have to play a lot of minutes and they’ve responded well and made some big plays at ends of games.”
The ‘Eaters will have a one-game break from conference play at LMU before heading to UC Davis in their quest for a Big West Championship.