RIVERSIDE, Calif. – The results really weren’t all that important. Rather, this was more about the mere presence.
Azusa Pacific debuted women’s water polo today with its first-ever intercollegiate games at the California Baptist Invitational, and though neither game came close to going the Cougars’ way, today was more about “being in the water” than “hitting the back of the net.”
Azusa Pacific opened the invitational with 14-2 loss to Concordia University and came back 4 hours later to fall to No. 18-ranked Cal State Bakersfield, 21-4. The Cougars looked every bit the rookie that they are with a 14-lady roster that features 8 freshmen. Yet that didn’t dampen their spirits.
“The girls are excited about getting back to practice on Monday,” said Azusa Pacific head coach Robert Fleming. “That shows you a little about their resiliency and make-up. The margin in the score mattered very little to them. Things that were exposed today are things we can work on in practice, and they’re looking forward to that.”
Junior Janelle Stacey (Arcadia, Calif./Arcadia HS) etched her name into history, and trivia for that matter, by tallying the first-ever goal in Azusa Pacific water polo history, firing a shot past Eagle goalie Lauren Biberston less than 5 minutes into the game to cut the Concordia advantage to 2-1. From there the Eagles reeled off 7 straight goals over to roll out o a 9-1 lead with just under 3 minutes left in the third quarter.
Freshman Elyse DeMar Redondo Beach, Calif./Redondo Union HS) ended the Cougar drought with her first-ever collegiate goal with 2:19 left in the third quarter.
The Eagles closed the contest with 5 unanswered goals, including the fourth of the game by Pelin Chalayan.
“We were apprehensive in the first game and trying to be perfect in the details,” said Fleming. “We weren’t very relaxed. It was an eye-opening experience for the freshmen.”
In the second game, Cal State Bakersfield scored 7 first-quarter goals and then sat its starters the rest of the way. Stacey accounted for both of the Cougars’ first-quarter scores as the frame closed with a 7-2 Roadrunner advantage.
“Janelle was outstanding today,” said Fleming. “She was all over the place and swam so hard she told me that she thought her heart was going to jump out of her suit.”
Even with the reserves in the water, Bakersfield kept the petal to the medal, registering 4 more goals in the second quarter and 5 more each in both the third and fourth quarters. Sophomore Whitney Wood (La Crescenta, Calif./Crescenta Valley HS) scored for Azusa Pacific in the third, while junior Lindsey Kimbell (Covina, Calif./Charter Oaks HS) recorded her first goal as a Cougar in the fourth.
Azusa Pacific scored on 3 of its 6-on-5 chances.
“Though the score doesn’t show it, we played much better in the second game,” said Fleming. “We were relaxed and communicating and much more comfortable with each other.”
Azusa Pacific has more than 2 weeks now to work on its game. The Cougars return to the water Feb. 11 when they visit California Baptist University in a 3 p.m. game.