AZUSA, Calif.-- Playing against the No. 21 ranked team in the country, the Azusa Pacific women’s water polo team twice came within a goal in the final minutes of action before falling to Wagner (N.Y.) 10-8 in its first home match of the season. The Cougars forced a pair of second half ties, and after trailing 4-1 early, and never let the Seahawks go ahead by more than two scores to nearly pull off what would have been one the biggest victories in the program’s five-year history.
The loss, although painfully close, was a welcomed sign for a young team that’s faced a brutal schedule, and appears to be trending in the right direction.
“Today’s match shows that our team’s improved a lot. They just beat a Bucknell team that beat us substantially, and we were within a goal late. Our team is so young and today shows that there’s a lot of growth. We’re starting to play team defense and team offense and sticking to what we know instead of just rushing. We still have some room for improvement. But it’s a positive game and I’m proud of how the girls fought,” said head coach Julie Snodgrass following her team’s first home match of the year.
“The girls loved finally playing at home. It was fun to have friends come and finally see them play. The girls loved the home environment and played better because of it.”
With Wagner (11-7) ahead 8-6 with 2:25 to play the Cougars forced an ejection, and quickly a 6-on-5 goal to make it an 8-7 game when Brittany Garrigan found the back of the net for the second time in the match. The Seahawks got a 6-on-5 goal of their own with 53 seconds to play, but Azusa Pacific responded with its own 6-on-5 score from Maryann Slama to put it at 9-8 with 29 seconds remaining. Wagner then held possession throughout the remainder of the match, scoring with three seconds to play to escape 10-8.
Garrigan, Slama, and Taylor Whitney each found the back of the net twice in the match, while Alynn Reade and Alyssa Hess recorded one goal apiece. The Cougars converted four of their eight 6-on-5 chances, and limited the Seahawks to only five goals over the final three quarters of play.
Jessica Armagost notched a pair of first half saves, and Matie Margot stopped two Wagner shots in the second half, including a huge fast break save with under four minutes to play to keep the Seahawks from going ahead 8-6.
Wagner jumped ahead 4-1 in the opening frame before Slama got the ball past the Seahawk defense with 49 seconds remaining. In the second quarter Reade put the Cougars within a goal, scoring with 4:29 on the clock, but Wagner reassumed a two-score edge with Jess Lundgren’s second goal of the match.
Then, with 2:04 left in the half Whitney received a pass from Lora Donaldson, turned around and bounced it past Laura Karbach inside the right post to make it a 5-4 affair going into the break. Azusa Pacific grabbed its first tie of the match early in the third quarter on a 6-on-5 goal from Whitney with 5:37 to go, and after Wagner went up again Hess scored with 13 seconds left in the quarter to go into the final quarter tied at 6-6.
Over the final eight minutes Wagner pulled ahead by as many as two before the Cougars made it a one-score match with 29 seconds to go before the Seahawks came away with the win. Jennifer Horchler registered four steals in the match, and added an assist, while Donaldson tabbed two steals and one assist.
Azusa Pacific will return to action tomorrow night at Pomona Pitzer, and will play four matches at the Lancer Invite over the weekend. The Cougars will then host their final two home matches of the season next week, welcoming Cal State Monterey Bay for a 5:00 p.m. match on Thursday, and Chapman for an 11:00 a.m. tilt on Saturday.