It was the last two minutes of the game, and the Occidental women’s water polo team (1-19 overall, 0-3 SCIAC) was in a stalemate against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) at 10-10. While spectators discussed the possibility of overtime, CMS’s Haley Connor made one final score to cinch the Athena’s victory.
“Claremont presses very hard and their defense was aggressive,” Interim Head Coach Jon Bonafede said.
The game started out a little slow for Occidental, with the defense giving up five goals in the first quarter. But the Tigers became more aggressive in the second quarter, scoring six goals.
CMS, however, would eventually match their energy once again. The game would be tied for much of the second half, and looked unsure until the very end, the final quarter beginning at 8-8.
While the game was tight, individual members showed their strength in the Saturday match. Carly Zurcher (sophomore) was three for six shots in the pool. Nina Wheeler (junior) and Katie Gibbs (senior) scored two goals. Gibbs recorded two steals and four knockouts as well.
The game was a personal best for Anna De Groot (sophomore), who made a total of 2 steals and 10 saves.
“I was just trying to keep my eye on the ball, giving it my all really,” De Groot said. “I try to stay aware.”
Bonafede said that part of the team’s strategy was to focus on their offense, but his main piece of advice to the team, especially during the close fourth quarter, was to avoid small mistakes.
“We need to stop turning the ball over,” Bonafede said. “Those things add up in the very end.”
De Groot agreed that turnovers were definitely an area that the team wanted to focus on. She said that she wants to learn from any mistakes moving forward.
The past season has been one of change for women’s water polo, with both a big influx of first-years and a new coach, with Bonafede taking over in December for Larry Zubrin. Bonafede had previously been assistant coach to both the men’s and women’s teams, until Zubrin took another position at the Crossroads School in Santa Monica.
The first-year players that Bonafede has had to lead have been finding their way in the pool. Hi’ipoi Lee (first-year) has already had her share of steals and even a few goals. Two weeks ago, she played a full game and scored twice. Meanwhile, Kelly Fitzgerald (first-year) was able to keep pace with De Groot in goal, with each making five saves at an early game against USC. She made nine saves in a win against Caltech.
“We have a really young team. We knew it would take the whole season to reach our peak. But we have a lot more to give,” Gibbs said.
Along with the new members, the team’s upperclassmen have been stepping up their performances, with Gibbs, Wheeler, Zurcher and Kyla Houck (junior) playing strong in early matches against tough teams from California Baptist University and USC. While Occidental is a Division III school, the team was scheduled to play against its share of Division I programs.
“We are a small, scrappy team. We’re small but mighty,” Zurcher said.
The women’s water polo team plays Chapman University this Wednesday, and La Verne April 8 at 4 p.m.