Corvallis, OR -- After an exhausting two week stretch of back to back Northwest Division tournaments both hosted in Oregon, the women's water polo club of the University of Washington has emerged with the #2 seed heading into the Division Championships in Pullman, Washington next month. This past weekend was particularly special as the Huskies went 4-0 for the first time in a Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) division tournament since 2008. The Huskies are 7-1 in conference play and 8-4 overall.
This weekend was one to remember and may be the biggest signal yet that the program has returned to form after several years of dormancy.
The Huskies knew they had a tough match up ahead when the first game of the weekend was against the Northwest division's perennial top-finisher and host team, Oregon State. OSU had already played #1 seed University of Oregon and lost in a close 5-3 matchup the previous weekend in Portland.
It took four quarters of play and three periods of overtime in a black and orange, Beaver fan-packed Osborn Aquatic Center, but the Huskies emerged victorious in a 10-9 nail-biter with freshman, Mary Elizabeth Ward (#6, San Rafael, CA) converting the power play in the "golden goal" overtime period.
CWPA rules require two 3 minute overtime periods; if the score is still tied, it goes to 3 minutes periods until the first goal or "golden goal" is scored to end the game.
Ward was phenomenal in the game. After getting into early foul trouble she doubled her efforts to come out with 5 goals including the game winner, 1 assist and an ejection earned. But the main attraction of the game was the UW suffocating defense earning goalie, Sierra Anderson, Player of the Game honors with 16 saves. The Dawgs were everywhere; not allowing much to happen on the OSU offensive side of the ball. The defense was so aggressive that it was contributing to the large number of ejections early in the first quarter with 3 players having two ejections each. It ended up not mattering as every powerplay by OSU was shutdown and the only goals against the Huskies of the first half, were three penalty shots resulting in 4-3 at the half, UW.
The Huskies unfortunately blew a 3 goal 6-3 lead in the fourth quarter after an attempt to slow the game down. But UW's Brenna Tinsley (#8, Auburn, WA) fired back with a 2 meter shot to make the game 7-6. It looked like a UW win until a hail mary by OSU's Madeline Torres, sailed perfectly into the corner of the cage with 18 seconds left on the clock. The Huskies called a timeout to run an offense in the last seconds, but a significant injury to UW's Taylor Lavine (#9, Auburn, WA) halted all action sending the game into overtime. Lavine was great in the match after going 3 for 3 on the sprints and meant a significant loss to the team for the remainder of the weekend.
In overtime, OSU struck in the first 10 seconds after a misjudged play call by UW's Head Coach, Rudy Ramirez. Luckily, co-captain, Danielle Flanagan (#4, Menlo Park, CA), tied the game back, 8-8, after a perfect assist from Lacy Chun (#11, Hau'ula, HI). The second overtime included the first potential game winner by Mary Elizabeth Ward after converting an outside shot through another assist by Chun, to make the score 9-8 with 39 seconds of play left in the game. But once again, a huge outside lob from this time, Emma Friedman of OSU, tied the game up with 3 seconds left.
The game would now be decided by whoever scored first. The first possesion was drafted up by coach Ramirez, and was made possible by Kellie MacPhee (#2, Encinitas, CA) winning the sprint after filling in for the injured Lavine. The key to success was a rotating drive and a drawn ordinary foul. Ward was the one to draw it, and after the defender interferred with the shot an exclusion was called. OSU stayed on Danielle Flanagan after she scored 4 for the game, despite they were now down a player. This opened up both Ward and Chun on the top, and after several passes, Ward sailed the ball perfectly cross-cage into the high corner to win the game, 10-9. The small band of UW fans and players cheered loudly as silence befelled the large OSU crowd.
"As the game wore on against OSU, I was really proud of how we were able to keep making adjustments on both sides of the ball," said Mary Elizabeth Ward after converting the final goal. "We never gave up; no matter how many times they caught back up to us we continued to work together to make a defensive stop or score on the offensive end to stay in the game and eventually we pulled out the win. It was a great team effort."
"They definitely bailed me out back there," was Coach Ramirez's first response to the game; referring to the playcall to start overtime that cost the Huskies a goal. "I've been involved in water polo for almost 20 years," he added. "Despite this game not deciding a championship, a trophy or any other accolades you can throw out there, this is one of the most satisfying experiences of my career. This result isn't an accident. This team has so much heart, and so much dedication, to persevere like that when the chips just kept stacking up against us...well it means a lot. I'm so proud of them."
It was a hard fought match across seven periods that would clearly cause significant fatigue for any team...and that was only the first game. The Huskies had three more to go including two more the same day.
In the second match of the day, the Dawgs would play rival, Washington State just several hours later. Despite the fatigue, this Huskies team is deep and they downed the Cougars 10-4 with 3 goals from Flanagan, 2 from Chun, 1 from Nicole Sargent (#5, Arcadia, CA), 1 from Caroline Lorentzen (#14, Seattle, WA), and first time goals for both Jayde Desprez-Lin (#7, Berkeley, CA) and Caitlin Cramer (#10, Troy, MI) as Huskies. Co-captain Lizzy Lipps (#13/1A, Menlo Park, CA) also converted one in her first weekend's return to the field after a stint as the backup goalie on the team. Player of the Game honors went to Vanessa Munro (#16, Boise, ID) who played very well in her first water polo game ever.
The Huskies had the first game of the tournament and the last game of the day. UW played Western Washington for a second time this season after downing them 18-6 the previous weekend. Western kept it much closer this time but the Dawgs fought back to win the game 10-6. Ward and Flanagan tied for 3 goals a piece with Chun leading the assists with 3. MacPhee added 2 goals, 1 steal and 1 assist but it was Caroline Lorentzen who was a defensive powerhouse on the perimeter. 2 steals, and 1 assist in addition to clogging Western's driving lanes and leading the counterattack, earned Lorentzen, Player of the Game honors.
After a good night's sleep and a massive pasta dinner, the Dawgs were well rested for their final game of the tournament on Sunday against University of Oregon "B". Once again the Huskies defense dominated the match not allowing a goal against until late in the second quarter. Kellie MacPhee who's normally leading the defense, decided to take advantage of the Ducks leaving her open on the top. She proceeded to go 3-for-3 on shots to goals for the Huskies, on top of 2 steals and an assist to earn her Player of the Game honors. Mary Elizabeth Ward added 3 steals and 3 assists while Caitlin Cramer earned 2 ejections and added 2 more strikes to the UW tally. Lipps and Desprez-Lin coverted again for 1 each.
The Huskies finished 4-0 after the long weekend signifying a massive development in the rebuild of the program. Lacy Chun, one of the team leaders had this to say:
"This weekend took a lot of mental strength. We had to quickly adjust in our first game against OSU and keep up our intensity with teams that we had played before. Going into overtime with OSU was very exciting and we really pulled through. Overall this weekend showed that our team works extremely well together, and everyone comes in with a great attitude and motivation to push through. I have a lot of confidence in every player on our team, and it's a privledge playing with them."
The Huskies are looking for their first division championship since 2003 as they head to Pullman, Washington on April 16th-17th with the #2 seed in the conference. Their first matchup will be against #7 seed University of Oregon "B" on Saturday, April16th at 2:10 p.m. Winner of the game will play winner of Portland State vs Washington State the following morning.
See the full CWPA schedule for more info.
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