Water polo swims level with ranked foes

Campus Times
September 25, 1998


by Robert Parry
Staff Writer

The University of La Verne water polo team is a sight to behold. Sunday afternoon, at the University of Redlands, this scrappy group of players literally clawed and climbed all over anything that got in their way, lobbing passes, firing fast balls, and gently lofting the occasional shot just over the goal keeper's head, all while being stood on, pushed, yanked and thumped on their way to a 2-2 record against some of the best teams around.

Saturday morning, head coach Tim Hugar took his team with a combined five games experience against a nationally ranked UC Santa Clara squad. That meant scholarship players. That meant a big challenge.

And the Leopards proved they were up to it. Hugar reported that Santa Clara needed a long two-pointer within the closing moments to steal a victory. Though they fell by a score of 9-8, for an inexperienced team facing a nationally ranked opponent, that was about as good as a win, Hugar said.

Unfortunately, the emotionally drained and physically exhausted Leopards found themselves back in the water three hours later to face the Whittier Poets who handed them a 12-8 disappointment.

Sunday morning, the Leopards rebounded, beating host Redlands in their own pool by a score of 8-4.

Then, Sunday afternoon, they faced Chapman University. La Verne jumped out to an early lead, scoring the first goal in the first minute. About 40 seconds later, junior Kenny Clements made a quick pass to junior Jace Crispin, who fired the ball home from five feet out to give La Verne a 2-0 lead. From there, they never looked back.

Chapman got as close as 4-3 in the opening moments of the second quarter before junior Shannon Kay led the Leopards on a tremendous run, racking up three goals by himself in as many minutes.

Goal keeper Mike Miles, a junior, was solid, deflecting three shots and adding three assists with passes nearly the length of the pool. The final score was 15-6, giving the Leopards a 6-3 record on the season.

Kay finished with six goals and four others had two each, including juniors Drew Miller, Corey Rodriguez, Clements and Crispin. Junior Caleb Diaz also added a late goal.

Perhaps most importantly to Hugar, though, is the character of his squad. Numbers wise, La Verne fields a small team. While many schools can constantly substitute players in and out, La Verne has just a handful of reserves out of the water. They proved to be a cohesive squad with spirit and character.

"We're not going to back down from anybody," Hugar said.

That was dramatically illustrated in the opening quarter. After Chapman's goal keeper blocked a shot and the two sides headed toward the opposite end of the pool, Clements stayed in front of the goal pestering him for a full minute. He eventually forced the keeper into a corner of the pool, stole the ball and passed it to Rodriguez in front of the open goal. Chapman saved the sure score only by fouling him.

Just as impressively, the Leopards played as a true team with lots of precise passing, frequent communication and a spread-the-play-around technique, which meant they threatened the goal from any point in the water.

The squad has a two week break to polish its technique before heading to the UC Santa Clara tournament on Oct. 3.