Following a 17-5 loss against No. 4 Pacific (13-4, 2-0) Thursday night in their inaugural match of the Golden Coast Conference, the No. 17 UC Irvine (7-8, 0-1) men’s water polo team huddled up as head coach Marc Hunt pointed out signs of positivity and progress among his team.
“In the last three weeks, we’ve played No. 1 (UCLA), No. 3 (USC) and No. 4 (Pacific) in the country, so [we’re] not going to necessarily put together this grand game against those teams, but [we] look at the little things we did right,” said Hunt. “Whenever you have a young team like this, as inexperienced as this, it’s all about the work in progress and what lesson we can learn from every game.”
With the loss, the ‘Eaters start off their journey in the Golden Coast Conference on a sour note, while the Tigers improve to 2-0. Ultimately, the ‘Eaters’ offense was stifled by the Tigers’ pesky defense powered by freshman goalkeeper Alen Osmanovic’s 14 saves in-between the pipes.
“I think we were hesitant to shoot. We needed to get shots off, and we were looking to get the ball inside a little bit too much when we should’ve been taking outside shots,” said Hunt. “It’s the speed of the game they have to learn. We didn’t attack in what they were giving us.”
The ‘Eaters were punished inside the two meter mark by Tiger junior center Tim Reeves, who scored a career-high six goals in the contest. Eight different Tigers paced their attack that amounted to 17 goals against ‘Eater junior goalkeeper Matej Matijevic, who garnered nine saves. For the ‘Eaters, freshman Foster Hoose led in the scoring department with two goals, while fellow freshmen Jon Polos, Brendan Fisher and Bryant Jourdie all chipped in with a goal apiece.
Pacific proved to be too much to contain, as the ‘Eaters fell to an 8-1 deficit midway through the second period. The ‘Eaters were able to scratch off two goals at the end of the first half with goals from Polos and Fisher to trim the Tiger lead at 8-3. Pacific continued to roll to the end as they outscored the ‘Eaters 9-2 in the second half to hand the ‘Eaters a loss to begin conference play.
“The level of competition is going to drop over the next two games, and it’s going to be interesting to see how we respond to that,” said Hunt. “Either we’re going to take what we learned and move forward off of it, or we are not going to do that at all, and that’s the challenge for them right now.”
After their tuneup game against Chapman at the Anteater Aquatics Complex on Tuesday, the ‘Eaters will resume GCC competition play as they head on the the road to face San Jose State on Friday.