Water polo starts season against elite competition

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Author: Ryan Whalen

Offensive and defensive woes continued for the Occidental men’s water polo team (0-8 overall, 0-0 SCIAC) over the weekend, as the black and orange could not capture its first victory of the season during the Lancer Invitational at Cal Baptist.

The Tigers opened the tournament on Friday with a scrappy game against SCIAC-foe Cal Lutheran. Occidental overcame a second quarter deficit of 7-3 to stalemate the Kingsmen with just over one minute left in the contest. However, in a game where both teams combined for 29 exclusions, Cal Lutheran took advantage of a late power play to score the game-winning goal (10-9) with only seconds remaining on the clock.

Occidental’s offensive production started to pick up in the latter half of the game, with Sam Akiyama (junior) netting three goals and seniors Jack Stabenfeldt and Kevin Coleman adding two scores apiece.

“We made some offensive adjustments,” Stabenfeldt said. “[We] switched up the style a little bit to be a little more adaptable to [Cal Lutheran’s] defense.”

In the nightcap that day, the black and orange took on a Redlands opponent that claimed the best overall season record of any team in the tournament. The Tigers’ defense was no match for the Bulldogs, and the team quickly found themselves facing an 11-3 deficit midway through the game. Senior Kirk Follette led Occidental with three goals as the squad fell 18-7.

In the Saturday morning game against Fresno Pacific, the Tigers were able to push past their offensive shortage by opening up a 2-0 lead against the Sunbirds within the first minute of the game.

However, the black and orange could not keep pace on the defensive side of the ball in the first half, finding themselves down four points to start the third quarter. The Tigers did manage to outscore Fresno Pacific 7-6 in the second half of the game, but their offensive charge was not enough to overcome the deficit. The black and orange would go on to surrender the match, 12-9.

“One of the biggest challenges facing this year’s team will be competing with a roster that is smaller than almost every other team, which makes it difficult to keep on the same intensity level throughout the entire game,” Hank Fransconi (sophomore) said.

The team finished off the Lancer Invitational with a match-up against last year’s SCIAC champion, Pomona-Pitzer. First-year Matt Munet accounted for nearly half the Tigers’ offense with three goals, one coming in each of the first three quarters. But the Sagehens pushed past Munet’s offensive outburst to hand Occidental a 16-7 loss.

Although the team has been unable to find success through the early part of season, the Tigers have started to incorporate more players into the offense, with seven different Tigers scoring at least one goal this weekend.

“We had a rough start to the season, but we are getting better everyday,” head coach Larry Zubrin said. “We still believe that we can be competitive in SCIACs. Once conference games start, it is like a whole new season.”

The men will have a chance at revenge against Fresno Pacific, taking on the host school in the second game of the Sunbird Round-Robin Tournament on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. They open the event with a match against the Santa Clara Broncos at 1:30 p.m.

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