As head coach Marc Hunt sees his No. 8 ranked UC Irvine men’s water polo team being upset by No. 16 Cal Baptist last Wednesday, he isn’t completely surprised by the result.
With the 2016 season being the inaugural year for the Golden Coast Conference in men’s water polo, NCAA rules state that the winner of the conference tournament does not receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament due to the mandatory one year of probation. In preparation for next year’s opportunity to earn an automatic bid in the conference, coach Hunt decided to redshirt five seniors and two juniors this season to keep his experienced squad eligible for competition.
Those who are redshirting this season are seniors Lovre Milos, Antonie Lena, Brendan Duffy, Andrew Fisher, and Kyle Trush. Juniors sitting out this season are Byron Rivers and Miles Kalbus.
“We’re loading up for the 2017 season,” said Hunt, “We know that we’re going to have to develop throughout the season and we like the young new guys we picked up and this is a great learning experience for [the team].”
Amongst the four freshman starting for coach Hunt is San Jose State junior transfer goalkeeper Matej Matijevic who is have a stellar season, averaging double-digit saves this season.
“He’s off the charts fantastic […] and one of the top goalies I’ve ever had on my team,” said Hunt, “Matej is the backbone of the defense and the leader of the team.”
Last Wednesday, the ‘Eaters would have their four game win streak snapped by the Lancers and they would compete in the Mountain Pacific Invitational in Walnut Creek during the weekend.
Wednesday night’s game against Cal Baptist came down to the ‘Eaters’ inability to defend power play opportunities as the Lancers converted seven out of their eight chances. The ‘Eaters on the other hand went two for nine in their six-on-five opportunities and ultimately lost the game 9-8.
Freshman Ian Fleenor and junior Ryan Warde both registered hat tricks in the game to lead the ‘Eaters in scoring. Matijevic recorded 11 saves on the night, defending the cage against the Lancers.
Cal Baptist tied the game at the end of the first half by scoring two consecutive goals to close the second period. The game was won in the third quarter where the Lancers managed to outscore the ‘Eaters by just one goal to take the lead and hold UCI to a standoff in the final period of play.
With the loss, coach Hunt loses any hope of the team qualifying to the NCAA tournament with an automatic bid but the goal of the year is solely focused on growth and the personal winning that comes with it.
“Our expectations are to get a little bit better every time we play and from a win/loss perspective it’s going to depend,” said Hunt, “When you are young you are inconsistent and for us, we want to find consistency and that is what the experience of this season will give us. The experience to get a little bit better every time we play.”
Mountain Pacific Invitational
On Friday through Sunday, the ‘Eaters competed in four games where they split their results by losing their first pair of games and winning their closing competitions in the tournament.
Opening the tournament, the ‘Eaters faced No. 10 Pepperdine for their lone game on Friday. The ‘Eaters were outscored 4-1 in the last quarter and ultimately dropped the game against the Waves, 12-6. The ‘Eaters would be up 3-1 in the first quarter until the Waves went on a three goal run to take the lead at the end of the period. Things would go back and forth until the fourth quarter where Pepperdine outscored the ‘Eaters 4-1. UCI had only the night to rest as they competed in two more matches on the following day.
Saturday morning, the ‘Eaters faced Pomona-Pitzer in a game that went to overtime. Sophomore Jack Trush, who scored his career high of five goals, forced overtime in the last minute of regulation but the ‘Eaters would concede a goal to the Sagehens in the closing minutes of the first overtime period to lose their second consecutive game.
Later in the evening, the ‘Eaters got back in the win column by defeating San Jose State, 12-7. Seven different ‘Eaters scored in the contest with Matijevic shining with 17 saves against his former team. Scoring the game’s first seven goals without conceding one proved to be enough for the ‘Eaters as the deficit was too much to overcome for the Spartans. With a win under their belt in the tournament, the ‘Eaters looked to end their weekend in Walnut Creek on a positive note facing Santa Clara on Sunday.
After a 1-1 deadlock in the first period against the Broncos, the ‘Eaters scored eight goals to Santa Clara’s two to grab a commanding lead in the second and third quarters. Santa Clara failed to make up the deficit and the ‘Eaters improved to 7-5 on the season.
The ‘Eaters will continue on to face Pac-12 powerhouses UCLA on Oct. 1st and USC at home on Oct. 9th.