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Freshman Callie Woodruff attempting a shot against Fresno Pacific on Feb. 9, 2018 at the Fresno State Aquatic Center. The ‘Dogs won its first-ever match in program history, 16-6. (Ramuel Reyes/ The Collegian)

First-ever home victory

If you heard a ruckus around the Fresno State Aquatic Center last Friday evening, you can pin it on the Fresno State water polo team.

In front of a packed crowd, the Bulldogs’ water polo team dominated Fresno Pacific University 16-6 in the program’s first-ever home match.

Cheers for both teams echoed throughout the evening – from the introduction of the teams’ rosters up until the final buzzer.

“It’s why I came here. Water polo is respected, and people want to come watch, and people are going to come support the team and support the athletes,” said head coach Natalie Benson. “I think that’s what’s gonna make the athletes feel like legitimate Division I athletes – is because they have some fan support – and also what will attract recruits here.”

Sunbirds fans had little to cheer about. Their team got down early and struggled to find any sort of momentum.

The Bulldogs established a 7-2 lead to close the first quarter and never allowed the Sunbirds to threaten a comeback.

“I’m really happy with how [the team] came out. They executed. We stuck to our game plan. We put on a pretty heavy, clean press and were able to force some perimeter turnovers and capitalize on the counterattack,” Benson said.

The ‘Dogs swarmed Sunbird players, making it difficult for them to find any sort of offense. Even on the Sunbirds’ power plays, they struggled finding the goal.

The Sunbirds only hit 28.6 percent of their shots, and scoring on Bulldog goalie Madelynn Garcia proved to be quite an arduous task.

Garcia’s long arms honed in on nearly every shot that came her way and she finished the game with 10 crucial saves.

“[Garcia] is a fantastic goalie. Even when I recruited her, we had to have her on the team because she’s so fluid. She’s long. She has a great physique for a goalkeeper. She’s able to execute the outlet passes and protect the cage well,” Benson said.

Garcia’s outlet passes were on full display against the Sunbirds – she finished the game with five assists. Her passes soared through the air and into areas where her attackers could capitalize.

Garcia said it helps to have such reliable teammates to pass to.

“I trust my teammates 100 percent, and that’s what teamwork and having a team is all about, is trust. If you can’t trust your team, at the end of the day, it’s not going to work,” Garcia said.

Attacker Isabella Magno was the recipient of one of Garcia’s assists and was the Bulldogs’ leading scorer for the game.  She finished with four goals on six attempts.

Magno described the experience and victory as, “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had in my life.”

The rest of the ‘Dogs were also efficient with their shots, finishing 16-for-35 for the game, with five Bulldogs pitching in multi goal efforts.

But Magno said they could have been much more effective in the second half.

Magno was not wrong; the team scored 12 goals in the first half and only four in the second.

“We did get a pretty good lead, but that doesn’t mean we can back off. I think the biggest thing for us is just keeping that momentum and keeping the spirit high no matter if we’re up or if we’re down,” Magno said.

The ‘Dogs will be in action again this Saturday for the Aggie Shootout in Davis.