The women’s water polo team opened its 2012 season at home with two losses against NAIA Concordia and Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference rival Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Saturday.
The Leopards fell to the Concordia Eagles 12-4 and to the CMS Athenas 14-12 in a back-and-forth contest.
“We’ve only been playing with each other for two weeks,” junior utility Alex Gudenau said. “We need to work on our passing and we were afraid to take our opportunities to shoot.”
In the first game of the day, both teams came out strong. Junior center Erika Vargas opened the game with a steal on the perimeter, but on the next possession the Eagles took the lead through junior center Kathryn Manderino and never looked back.
After a solid first quarter, Concordia exploded for four more goals in the second to the Leopards one, by way of a direct shot by sophomore driver Bethie Ross.Ross earned second seam all-conference honors last season and also led the team in goals, assist, steals and drawn ejections last season.
“There’s a lack of team chemistry and understanding our system of play,” fourth year head coach Alex La said.
During certain points in the game the majority of the Leopards in the water were underclassmen, which caused problems at times.
“They have a lot of energy and a lot to prove,” La said. “The more we play, the more understanding we’ll have and the better we’ll play.”
The third quarter was similar to the first as the Eagles netted two more goals and it seemed as though the Leopards would go scoreless.
Gudenau changed the tides by rising up and burying a shot in the upper left corner as the buzzer sounded to keep the Leopards within seven at 9-2.
Despite the deficit, La Verne kept fighting throughout the fourth, giving up three more goals and scoring two by way of Gudenau and sophomore defender Katie Lacek.
After only a one game break, the Leopards came out looking more refreshed than ever against SCIAC foe CMS.
Both teams played another tight first quarter and Gudenau opened the scoring less than a minute in on a nice turn and lob over Athena goalkeeper Taylor Basso.
The teams traded goals and it appeared that La Verne would head into the first break with a 2-1 advantage.
CMS senior utility Kristina Norrgard almost replicated Gudenau’s buzzer beater, sinking a shot from nine meters out with two seconds left.
Vargas opened the second quarter with a goal, the first of her five for the game, through a nice individual effort.
Vargas drew an exclusion and converted the man advantage in transition a little more than a minute into the game.
CMS took a 5-3 advantage with 1:31 left but the Leopards immediately responded by feeding Vargas with two more goals to knot things going into the halftime break.
“I jumped in there, got aggressive, got shots off and the momentum kept me going throughout the game,” Vargas said.
La credited the solid first half to sophomore goalkeeper Shane Burgess and Lacek.
“I think Katie Lacek and Shane Burgess had great first halves and that’s why we were in the game,” La said.
The third quarter proved to be the difference with the Athenas pressing hard in the passing lanes and turning their hard defense into momentum for the counterattack.
At the 5:11 mark of the third CMS opened an 8-5 lead, creating a cushion that carried them to the victory.
La Verne attempted to play catch up, facing an 11-9 hole at the break with the help of two goals by freshman Kelsey Broyles, but the Athenas used another 3-0 run to open the fourth to put things out of reach.
Vargas led all scorers on the day with five goals while Gudenau and Ross added four.
The Leopards next play Feb. 25 to 26 in the Chapman Tournament against Gannon, Occidental, Vanguard and Chapman,
Then they will compete in the Cal Lutheran Tournament on March 3 and 4 where they will face Fresno Pacific, Cal Baptist, Chapman and Cal State Bakersfield.
They return home on March 9 and 10 for the annual Claremont Convergence Tournament.
Daniel Hargis can be reached at email@example.com.