RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- Azusa Pacific’s third year of women’s water polo took another step in its development, posting the program’s first .500 campaign and setting the program’s single-season wins record despite a slow start to the year. The Cougars finished the season with a pair of 1-goal defeats Saturday at the NAIA Invitational in Riverside, dropping a 6-5 decision against Concordia followed by a nail-biting 8-7 defeat against Fresno Pacific.
Freshman Alyssa Hess followed her 9-goal opening-day performance with another pair of multi-score games, adding 5 goals to finish the 2-day, 5-team round-robin tournament with 14 goals. Senior Michelle Lutz also scored in both games, tallying 1 goal in each contest, and freshman goalkeeper Jessica Armagost notched 17 saves on the afternoon to finish with a tournament total of 28 saves.
Hess got the Cougars on the board first in the morning game against Concordia, although Concordia took a 2-1 lead with 2 goals in the final 91 seconds of the first quarter. With the clock winding down late in the quarter, Lybov Tchougounova launched a desperation heave from two-thirds of the pool length, and she somehow found the top right corner of the net to give the Eagles a 2-1 lead. Hess had time for a desperation shot of her own on the ensuing possession, but Concordia goalkeeper Chante’ Lundskog got a hand on it and tipped it into the goalpost and away from the net.
Lutz kept the game from producing a scoreless second quarter, finding the net with less than a minute to play to send the game into halftime tied at 2-2. Hess and sophomore Jennifer Horchler got Azusa Pacific back in front with third-quarter goals, but Concordia got another goal in the final minute of the quarter to send the game into the final 8-minute period with the Cougars leading by 1, 4-3.
Tchougounova tied the game less than 90 seconds into the fourth quarter with her second goal of the game, and Katherine Manderino scored less than a minute later to swing Concordia back in front, 5-4. Catalina Barraza added an insurance goal with 1:36 to play, making it a 6-4 game with the Eagles’ fourth consecutive goal. Senior Ivonne Garcia scored from 2 meters out with 36 seconds left, and Concordia made a costly error with the 35-second shot clock winding down.
Intending to toss it into the corner of Azusa Pacific’s side to salt away the closing seconds, the ball instead sailed out of bounds, stopping the clock for the Cougars to get into position for a potential game-tying goal. However, the shot never came before the final horn sounded, as Concordia swarmed the incoming pass and didn’t allow a shot attempt.
In the second game, Fresno Pacific took an early 3-0 lead before Hess answered with Azusa Pacific’s lone first-quarter goal. Lutz pulled the Cougars to within 3-2, and the game went into halftime with Fresno Pacific holding the same 1-goal margin at 4-3. After junior Rebecca Edwards scored less than 2 minutes into the third quarter to tie it at 4-4, Fresno Pacific again scored 3 straight for a 7-4 lead with just over 2 minutes to play in the quarter.
Hess answered with the first of back-to-back goals, trimming the lead to 7-5 at the end of the third quarter and cutting it to 7-6 just over a minute into the fourth quarter with her third goal of the game. After nearly 4 minutes of scoreless action, Edwards added her second game-tying goal, pulling the teams even at 7-7 with 2:58 remaining. However, Jennifer Cobb scored the game-winner on Fresno Pacific’s ensuing possession, and another equalizer never came for the Cougars.
After Saturday’s losses, Azusa Pacific’s season concludes with a 15-15 overall record, setting the program’s wins record with a significant improvement for the second consecutive season. The Cougars recorded 1 victory in their inaugural season in 2009 and improved to 9 wins in 2010. The 2011 team started out 2-8, then won 13 times in a 17-game stretch before finishing the year with 3 consecutive defeats.