Tournaments are a chance for coaches and their teams to gather valuable experience, size up other teams, practice plays and gain valuable experience. These were just a few of the many goals the CBU Mens Water Polo team had as they attended the Overnight MPSF Invitational held at UCLA’s Spieker Aquatics Center from Sept. 22–Sept. 24.
The men’s teams had a formidable lineup. Princeton and Stanford were tied for fourth in the Men’s Varsity rankings, both of whom CBU played on Friday. This was followed by No. 19-ranked Santa Clara on Saturday, with one final game against ranked number nine UC San Diego on Sunday. The men’s team came in with a record of 6-4, sitting at rank 14 respectively.
The men’s team would experience great adversity over the weekend as they struggled to find a win. This does not mean the games were wasted. In fact, in both the UCSD and Santa Clara games, CBU’s team came within one point of winning. As head Coach Kevin Rosa pointed out, every game is as much a battle as it is a learning opportunity, especially as the team looks ahead to the next set of games.
“We knew that the schedule would be tough early [on]. We need to be mentally strong and withstand adversity and persevere for the games going forward. Everything is to prepare us for our conference games,” Rosa said.
With conference games just on the horizon, a tournament like this may be what the team needs to break through against formidable opponents.
“That is what tournament games are for,” Rosa said. “We want to play good teams and put ourselves in difficult situations to see how we respond. We now know that we can come back from being down late but we need to be able to make the last play to help us win the game. If we can play better in the middle quarters to not be down so late in the game, we can conserve some energy that was expended in those comeback efforts.”
However, this weekend was only a partial loss, as the team experienced many high points over the weekend. For example, the team has a plethora of shooters to choose from and to keep the opponent guessing.
“Our team is very deep. We have multiple guys that can step up and score when needed. That is tough to stop and hard to defend. There are times when one of those players steps up and gets the hot hand. If that happens, we will cater to him for that game,” Rosa said.
The players also had much to say about the tournament, especially regarding scoring opportunities after ejecting opponents for a 6-on-5 offensive play. These possessions are crucial to edging out the competition.
“The big difference that could have been made between the Santa Clara and UCSD game was finishing our opportunities. We had many 6-on-5 chances throughout the game and if we were able to convert half of them, we would have won by a few goals each. This all comes down to composure and ball movement,” said Caleb Teraoka, senior nursing major and attacker on the team.
Displaying aggression in the face of adversity is a hallmark of the sport and a testament to the toughness of these athletes. It also can give the team an advantage, no matter how small. Players like Teraoka can learn and adjust their play by seeing other competitors at higher levels.
“Stanford is a very solid team fundamentally,” Teraoka said. “We need to come out with the same speed and aggression consistently in order to compete at a high level. We need to be mentally sharp, have quick reaction times and ready to attack the rest of the teams on our schedule because the refs are more likely to favor the team who appears to be more dominant.”
Cameron Cullen, senior business marketing major and attacker on the team, reflects on what the team did well when they found their groove.
“When we did have a patient offense this weekend, it was great and we played some fantastic possessions. We just have to focus on having these types of possessions more consistently,” Cullen said.
Patience is a key virtue in any sport and is especially needed to compete consistently at the top level. Setting your team up for success can often prove more challenging than the shot itself.
“Stanford is a very technically skilled team, and this was definitely reflected in the exclusion ratio. As a team, we have to review the film and understand how they out-positioned us. Once we see the positional mistakes, we can adjust to play more under control and get the exclusion ratio to be in our favor instead,” said Cullen.
Cullen stated that despite how tough the weekend was, he is proud and excited for the team as they move forward.
“We learned some areas of improvement and proved to ourselves we can compete with the best teams in the nation,” Cullen said. “In a one-goal game, it comes down to who is going to execute their game plan the best. In both games, we could have gotten a defensive stop to keep the game tied and force overtime, but we missed that defensive execution. The team and I will definitely reflect on these close losses and use them as fuel to get better for the remainder of the season.”
This weekend was the catalyst for a much bigger rivalry brewing on the horizon. CBU’s men’s water polo has its first conference game against Santa Clara on Oct. 5 at the Lancers Aquatics Center.
“[Santa Clara University] will be our first conference game,” Rosa said. “We got frustrated on offense, and that led to giving them too many easy goals in transition. If we can take care of the ball, [and] run efficient offenses against SCU, then I believe we can change the result for the next game.”
With a rematch coming soon and the loss fresh in their minds, it is safe to say the team smells blood in the water.