Southwest Division Championships
We did it! Your UCSD Men’s Club Water Polo team is the Southwest Division Champion for the first time in club history! But let’s back it up.
We went into the Regional Championships with eyes for first place. We were seeded second with a 7-1 record, and were confident in the path we needed to take to the finals. Our first game on Saturday was against Cal State Northridge, a team we had beaten decisively earlier in the season. The result was the same this time around, with us winning 15-3. This game allowed us to work on our game plan in real time, and also allowed everyone some playing time.
Our second match was an important one against UC Irvine. We had beaten them earlier in the year after a close, physical game, and we needed to beat them again to head to the finals. The game started off close, with the lead swinging back and forth in the first quarter. But starting in the second quarter their aggressiveness began to turn into calls for us, which lead to our eventual victory. We stuck to our strengths in our front court offense and put fresh swimmers in later in the game, garnering us a few counter goals. In the end we won 16-7, without real worry. We were on to the finals. And we were going to play our cross-city rivals: San Diego State.
The sun rose bright and early on Sunday, November 4th, and we were ready. We had been preparing for this game all week, all season even, and we had a plan. We were going to take away their counter attack, slow the game down in our favor, drive away their center-drop-defense, feed our center players, and work to garner and put away man-up opportunities. We were going to swim hard and shoot harder. I have never seen this team as fired up as we were before that game started, and it payed off. On our first two man-up opportunities, our senior captain, Mackenzie Cottle, put two goals on the scoreboard for UCSD. Quick passes from freshman Andrew Burda left SDSU’s star goalie leaping for shots just out of his reach. We prevented them from scoring any counter goals that first quarter, and gave up only one goal. Our drive offense worked wonders, and allowed grad-student and fifth year player, JJ Kadifa, to score our third goal of the game. His shot hit a defender’s hand and still went in.
In the second quarter, we did not slow down. We had pulled to a 3-1 lead in the first, and wanted more. Our drives led to another man-up opportunity, where senior captain, Jackson Ziegler, put a shot in the back of the net. Once again, a quick pass, this time from fellow captain, Mackenzie Cottle, led to a beat goalie and a 4-1 lead. Our game plan continued to work, with SDSU having no counter, and our front-court offense allowing strong shots from the outside. One such shot came from freshman Malachi Sanders, who hit the corner and led to our 5-3 lead at halftime.
Our sophomore goalie, Sachin Okuma, played a fantastic game throughout, and really shined in the third. He stopped multiple 1 on 1 shots, including a few sneaky attempts by SDSU shooters to shoot near-side. He kept them to one goal in the third quarter, while we scored two more. Junior Jack Harper, made a tough shot from center position, skipping the ball right under the goalie’s arm. Freshman Malachi Sanders racked up another goal during a man-up opportunity, with the quick pass coming once again from freshman Andrew Burda. Props must also be given to junior Josh Wang, whose presence at the center position led to multiple man-up opportunities and SDSU’s drop defense, which we had been so diligently working on breaking down in practice. At the end of the third quarter it was 7-4, and we were just seven minutes away from the championship.
Our fourth quarter exemplified the peak of our defensive ability. We were so focused on defense, that we were unable to put away some of the game’s easiest goal-scoring opportunities. And yet, there must have been five or six SDSU possessions in a row that ended in us stealing the ball, intercepting a pass, or shot blocking the ball away from our goal. Goalie Sachin Okuma once again had huge stops. Near the end, SDSU got desperate, and our excitement got the better of us, which allowed them to score two goals in the last two minutes. But after their sixth and final goal, there were 19.76 seconds left on the clock and we were up by one. All we had to do was hold the ball until the clock ran out. And we did.
We won our regional championships for the first time in club history 7-6, and we did it as a team. We came into the game with a plan, and stuck to it until the end. Every goal, every steal, every block, every cheer from the roaring, trumpeting fans mattered. Every decision and point of strategy from head coach Hector Sanchez was needed. We worked and trained and practiced starting on September 5th, and it all payed off. We beat State, we got first place, and we are headed to the National Tournament! We did it.