Water polo swims level with ranked foes
September 25, 1998
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.