Water Polo travels to California to face top teams

By GREGORY MELICK | October 11, 2018

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HOPKINSSPORTS.COM The water polo team got a good idea of where they lie compared to other top teams this weekend.

This weekend the Hopkins water polo team traveled across the country to Claremont, Calif. to participate in the Gary Troyer Memorial Tournament, where they would face off against the other top Division III teams.

“We go to California to play the top Division III schools because otherwise we would never meet. We were excited for these games because they determine our ranking in Division III,” senior goalie Spencer Witte said.

The Blue Jays opened up the weekend against the top ranked Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens. 

Hopkins opened up the scoring, as senior utility player Giorgio Cico scored just over a minute into the game. The Sagehens were quick to respond, evening up the score less than 40 seconds later.

The Sagehens would score again with three minutes remaining in the first quarter, but Hopkins would close out the first quarter with an equalizer goal of their own, from sophomore driver Olin Shipstead.

Pomona-Pitzer would score the first two goals of the second quarter, but the Blue Jays would not fold, scoring two of their own from freshman driver Emerson Sullivan and senior utility player Josh Kurtz with 2:26 remaining in the second quarter. Hopkins could not hold the tie heading into halftime, and they surrendered a goal to the Sagehens to put the halftime score at 5-4 in favor of Pomona-Pitzer.

The second half belonged to the Sagehens, as they would outscore Hopkins 6-2 to take an 11-6 win to assert themselves as the number one team in the country. The Hopkins power play unit did not do well against Pomona-Pitzer, going 0-10 in the game.

In their second game of the tournament, the Blue Jays faced off against the fifth-ranked Chapman University Panthers. The Blue Jays would again start off hot, this time scoring the first goal in the first 14 seconds from junior attacker Finn Banks. 

They would again surrender an equalizing goal but would respond to that with a 5-1 run to take a 6-2 lead at the end of the first quarter. Sophomore driver Nico Ivanov scored three consecutive goals during the run for the Blue Jays, three of the five total goals he would score in the game.

The second quarter belonged to the Panthers, as they outscored the Blue Jays 6-2 in the quarter to tie the game up at eight heading into halftime.

Chapman would continue their momentum in the second half, scoring the first two goals to go up 10-8, before the Blue Jays ended the run with a goal from freshman attacker Jayden Kunwar. A goal from the Panthers made it 11-9 with 27 seconds left in the third quarter, but Hopkins would score with just five seconds remaining to pull within one.

That goal at the end of the third would spark the Blue Jays, as they scored the first six goals of the fourth quarter to take a commanding 16-11 lead. 

Banks scored four of the six goals and ended up with seven in the game. Hopkins would beat Chapman 16-12.

In the first game of the second day of the tournament, the Blue Jays would go head to head with the No. 2 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags. The Blue Jays would once again jump out to an early 1-0 lead thanks to yet another goal by Banks but would yet again surrender the lead. After that first goal by the Blue Jays, the Stags would go on a 5-1 run to take a 5-2 lead at the end of the first quarter. 

The two teams would play even in the second and third quarters, each scoring five goals, putting Hopkins at a 10-7 deficit entering the final quarter. The Blue Jays would score the first goal of the fourth quarter but could not manage any more, and the Stags added two insurance goals at the end of the game to take a 12-8 victory.

The Blue Jays’ final game in the two-day tournament was against the University of Redlands Bulldogs, who came into the game ranked sixth in Division III. 

In what seemed to be the theme of the tournament, the Blue Jays would score first, under a minute into the first quarter, but then surrender a goal right back. The two teams fought back and forth for the remainder of the first quarter, and the Bulldogs would take a slim 4-3 lead into the start of the second quarter.

Hopkins opened up the scoring in the third quarter, with an equalizing goal from Kunwar, but then allowed a 6-1 Redlands scoring spree that put the score at 10-5. The Blue Jays tried to battle back, but the grueling two-day, four-game tournament proved to be too much, and the team fell in their last game 14-10.

“The results of our games could have been better. Going 1-3 is a bit disappointing, and that’s partially due to the difficulty in traveling across the country and playing teams on the west coast,” Witte said. “The six-hour flight and playing four games in two days really tired the team out. Also polo is played a bit different out there, and we were playing teams we don’t play very often. Every year it’s a difficult tournament, and we know that.”

Banks led the Blue Jays with eight goals throughout the four-game tournament, and Ivanov and Sullivan both contributed seven. Kunwar scored six of his own goals, and Cico put five shots in the back of the net to finish off the Blue Jays’ balanced offensive attack.

Defensively, Witte played all of all four games for the Jays. He ended the tournament with an impressive 28 saves, with his highest save game coming against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, who he denied 13 times throughout the game.

The tournament was a good learning experience for the team, especially for some of the younger Blue Jays who had not made the trip or played against these top teams before. Though the results were not what the team may have hoped for, it revealed areas for improvement going forward.

“These games showed a lot of potential in the team. We looked strong offensively; however, I think our defense and defense on counter attacks need some work. We need to be a bit more organized when defending because too often people were able to get open right in front of the cage,” Witte said.

The Blue Jays will get a chance to show what adjustments they have made this weekend as they participate in the College Water Polo Association’s Division III Championships at home. Hopkins will open with a game at 3:30 p.m. in the Newton White Athletic Center.

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