La Verne finished the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with a 3-7 record and placed sixth in the tournament with a 1-2 record.
The Leopards lost to Cal Lutheran 11-7, then beat Caltech 19-13 and lost to Whittier 11-10.
“We came in as the fifth seed, which is the highest we’ve been seeded since I’ve been here,” junior utility Arturo Villalpando said.
La Verne hosted the tournament at Las Flores Park. Close to 70 fans filled the pool deck for the opening day of the tournament.
The Leopards’ first match was against the fourth ranked Cal Lutheran Kingsmen.
At the end of the first period the underdog Leopards sent a message to the Kingsmen. The score was tied 2-2 and the aggressive Leopards were looking to pull the upset.
“We came out a little under the radar, but when we almost pulled the upset against Cal Lu I think people started to notice us,” freshman utility Julian Casillas said.
In the second period senior utility Kyle Thorsness and freshman driver Derek McCaulley gave the Leopards the offense they needed to stay in the game, scoring La Verne’s two goals in the second period.
Going into halftime the Leopards trailed the Kingsmen 6-4.
Coming into the third the Kingsmen were able to get two quick scores which forced the Leopards to take an early timeout.
Coming out of the timeout La Verne was able to get a score from Villalpando and was finally able to get a stop on defense.
After the stop Villalpando swam down the pool and scored another, which brought the Leopards back within two.
“We proved something this weekend,” coach Alex La said. “We proved that hard work will keep you in games and make up for our inexperience.”
The goal brought La Verne fans out of their seats and got the players pumped.
Freshman goalie Dan Newell, who was selected to the All-WWPA Freshman Team, made great saves on the Kingsmen’s six-on-five power plays.
Thorsness scored the final goal of the third period, but La Verne still trailed 9-7. Thorsness had three goals on the day.
The Leopards were not able to produce any offense in the fourth period and lost to the Kingsmen 11-7.
The next day the Leopards faced the eighth seeded Caltech Beavers.
La Verne grabbed momentum late in a high scoring first period, jumping out to an 8-4 lead over the Beavers.
La Verne was relentless with their scoring in the second period, outscoring the Beavers 6-2, leaving them with a halftime lead of 14-6.
With the huge lead the Leopards turned to their bench to protect the lead in the third period. The second unit was able to protect the lead and the Leopards were able to spread the ball .
Eleven different players found the back of the net during the game.
La Verne won 19-13 on La’s 30th birthday.
“I don’t think any team in the conference wants to play us because we’re always battling back and staying in the game,” La said.
The win put the Leopards in the fifth place game against the Whittier Poets.
After one period of play the game was close, but La Verne trailed 3-2.
“Our lack of experience causes holes and forces us to battle back from behind,” La said. “We play a lot of freshman, but with leaders like Emerson (Gant), Thorsness and (Andrew) Mackay who bring so many intangibles and different aspects to the game it’s easy to get back and compete.”
The stands were filled for the third straight day of the tournament and the game did not disappoint.
The game ended with an exciting turn of events and the Leopards came back in the fourth period.
Thorsness scored the goal to tie the game at 10-10 with 1:23 remaining in the game.
Whittier scored with 22 seconds remaining on a shot that was deflected by the defense to take the win and the fifth place spot in the SCIAC tournament.
“They scored off a field block that ended up going through the goal, if you ask me that was luck,” La said.
La Verne will finish their season at the Western Water Polo Association tournament Nov. 17-20 at UC San Diego’s Canyonview Pool.
The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA Final Four.
Christian Orozco can be reached at email@example.com.