The final week of regular season games was a busy one for the Occidental women’s water polo team (3-11 overall, 1-7 SCIAC) as it broke out of their conference slump and honored the team’s seniors before their final collegiate game in Taylor Pool.
The week started out on a high note as the Tigers took down Caltech 16-4 to claim their first conference win of the season in last Wednesday’s match up. The game also marked Occidental’s biggest offensive performance of the season with eight different players scoring goals. Attacker Carly Zurcher (junior) led the charge by netting five goals, with four coming in the second half. Nina Wheeler (senior) also played a hand in orchestrating the Occidental offense by scoring two goals and assisting on three more.
Defensively, it was goalkeeper Anna De Groot (junior) and Wheeler who set the tone for the Tigers. De Groot allowed just four goals to make it to the back of the net, while Wheeler kept the ball out of Caltech’s hands with three steals.
Following the 16-4 dismantling of the Beavers, the Tigers returned to Taylor Pool for a showdown against Redlands in their final home game of the season. The matchup also marked the final time the team’s two seniors — Lizzy Kosin and Wheeler — would have the opportunity to play in front of a home crowd.
Prior to the start of their game against Redlands, the Tigers honored the seniors with a brief ceremony to show their appreciation for Kosin and Wheeler’s continued dedication to the team.
“It has not quite hit me that that was my last game in Taylor,” Wheeler said. “I am relieved I will no longer have to play in a historic landmark, but this pool was unique to Oxy, so no matter its pitfalls it was part of the team and makes our experience unique.”
With emotions running high, the Occidental team came out of the gates firing, quickly jumping to a 3-2 lead midway through the first quarter. The Tigers continued to apply offensive pressure, pushing their total up to four goals before the end of the first and forcing Redlands to switch out their goalie.
“I definitely think there was additional energy during the senior game,
Claudia Oppermann (first year) We all wanted to give [Wheeler] and [Kosin] a great last game here at Oxy. Even though it did not turn out as well as we had hoped, I think we all played really hard.”
Unfortunately, Occidental was unable to keep the aggressive pace as Redlands raced ahead to claim an 8-5 lead at the end of the second. Opperman was the only Tiger who found her mark during the second quarter.
The struggles for Occidental continued in the third quarter. Hi’ipoi Lee (sophomore) scored the Tigers lone goal of the quarter while Redlands upped their attack to push the Occidental deficit to 6-13.
“I think we need to focus on communication on defense,” Laura Chun (first year) said. “Sometimes we get too wrapped up in guarding one person and we forget that defense is also team oriented. We have worked extensively on running a zone defense, and this play style requires a lot of talking.”
Despite their defensive woes, the Tigers were able to regroup and play evenly with the Bulldogs in the final quarter of the game. Fittingly, it was the two seniors, Kosin and Wheeler, who took control late in the game. Both scored goals during their final moments in Taylor Pool.
However, the hole the Tigers dug early was too deep to overcome, and Occidental dropped the hard-fought game 16-8.
“Even though we ended up losing the game, I felt like I had never seen my team work so hard from start to finish during a game and it made me really proud,” Kosin said. “I think that says some promising things for our SCIAC tournament this weekend, and I am confident my team is going to work hard for my last couple of games, and I will work hard for them as well.”
With only one week remaining, the Tigers’ season is coming to a close. However, the experiences and advice passed on by the two seniors will help to guide the Occidental players who will be returning for future season.
“[Kosin] works harder than anyone I know and [Wheeler] is the most supportive and empathetic noodle in the world,” Oppermann said. “They both have been great team leaders and incredible fun friends.”
Occidental will take on Caltech at 12 p.m. during this Friday’s SCIAC Championship play-in game at Redlands.