Amongst the senior night celebrations for the No. 8 UC Irvine women’s water polo team (18-10, 3-2), head coach Dan Klatt knew that a win would be pivotal in the seedings for the Big West Conference Tournament next weekend.
Thursday night, the ‘Eaters would edge out an 11-10 victory against Long Beach State and help them in ultimately securing the second seed tournament.
Both Hannah Lancaster and Emily Carlson were honored after the game for their four years playing at Irvine, with their last year serving as the starting captains for the team.
“Being on the team has definitely shaped me in a positive way, it’s like having a giant family and it’s very nice,” said Lancaster on her four year journey, “Being a student-athlete is very rewarding, there are a lot of positives that come with it, and it is always great to play in your home pool with this great support throughout the years.”
Sophomore Mary Brooks led the ‘Eaters with five goals in the high scoring affair with junior Gabby Pierandozzi not too far with a hat trick of her own. For the 49ers, freshman Tori Morrissey netted in three goals to match Pierandozzi particularly in the first quarter trading early blows. In between the pipes for the ‘Eaters, junior goalkeeper Annika Nelson came up big down the stretch and notched eight saves on the night. Irvine’s lack of discipline to prevent foul calls cost them as the 49ers cashed in on five power play opportunities and converted on two penalty shots.
“We just didn’t play smart, we fought with them too much, we had the opportunity to surge ahead a couple of times, and we just let them linger around any type of mistake we made”, said Klatt, “That (fouls) happens with this team a lot because they’re very physical and we tend to be physical back and that’s the most we’ve gotten excluded in any game this whole season.”
There was a first quarter duel between Pierandozzi and Morrissey as Pierandozzi’s opening two goal run was immediately matched by Morrissey knotting things up at 2-2. Brooks got into the action scoring her first goal with two minutes remaining in the period, only to be answered once again by the 49ers to find the game at a 3-3 draw after one.
Irvine would take advantage of 49er exclusion with Carlson lobbing a pass up to Brooks, who seemed to leap out the water and find the back of the cage to give the ‘Eaters back the lead. After Long Beach tied things up 30 seconds later, Brooks would again regain the lead for the ‘Eaters for her third on the night. The back and forth second quarter would conclude with a Pierandozzi buzzer beater as she powered in a shot on an ‘Eater power play to take a 7-5 lead heading into the second half of play.
After both teams scored twice in the third quarter, with the last goal coming from a nearly submerged junior Destene Albers, the ‘Eaters would take just a two goal lead in the fourth. Long Beach would get as close as cutting the deficit to one goal, but Brooks would score her fifth goal with 57 seconds remaining in the game. The ‘Eaters were able to fend off a late scare from the 49ers, after Long Beach converted on a penalty shot with 30 seconds left by keeping control of the ball and ending their conference undefeated streak.
Defeating Long Beach meant more than just a win to close the season for the ‘Eaters as they would gain the tie-breaker against both Hawai’i and UCSB. By virtue of a tie breaker, with UC Santa Barbara (15-12, 3-2) losing to Long Beach (17-10, 4-1) in their season finale on Saturday, the ‘Eaters earn the second seed in the tournament where four of the top 10 teams in the nation are competing.
“My expectation is to win. I’d like to win the tournament and go to the NCAAs, and I hope that is the team’s expectation as well so we have to make that the [focus] this weekend,” said Klatt.
The ‘Eaters will begin their journey to raise the cup this Friday at Santa Barbara as they have a first round bye and await the winner of CSUN and UC Santa Barbara for a semi-final matchup on Saturday.