Sometimes in sports when you lose games, you win valuable lessons. That is what head coach Natalie Benson hopes will happen for the Fresno State water polo team after losing their first conference match, 9-3, to No. 12 Loyola Marymount University on Saturday at the Aquatic Center.
The Bulldogs fell behind early on a goal with 4:48 left in the first quarter by LMU’s Hana Vilanova. Less than a minute later, Daniela Hernandez made an additional goal with a power play. The Lions added two more goals in the first period and took a 4-0 lead into the second.
The Bulldogs were able to net their first goal of the match with just over six minutes left in the second quarter by freshman attacker Maddie Loggins.
LMU responded with a second goal from Vilanova about 30 seconds later, making the score 5-1. Two Fresno State goals were quickly met by the Lions to quell any momentum the ‘Dogs hoped to build, and that is something that Benson attributed to lack of experience. The Bulldogs feature a roster of 19 with 12 freshmen.
“That’s an experience thing,” Benson said. “We score a goal and then we let down for a minute, and they don’t focus on defense, they focus on the goal they just scored and how they are happy that they scored that goal instead of buckle down on defense and don’t trade.”
The Bulldogs failed to capitalize on two penalty shots of their own, but Benson said she felt that the team handled the missed opportunities with composure.
“Penalty shots are tough when you have a really good goalie in there, and we’re young and not used to taking those types of shots, and we are trying different shooters in there, giving different people different looks,” Benson said. “I am actually very happy with how they responded. Nobody backed down from that second shot, and they shook it off and took care of it. We just have to keep plugging away.”
The Lions outscored Fresno State 3-0 in the third period and took a 8-1 lead going into the fourth.
The ‘Dogs did regroup to begin the final period, scoring the first goal on a screamer by Natalie Espinoza off of an assist from Claire Schade.
The Lions responded with another goal to finish the scoring in the game for both teams.
In the end, Loggins said that the match was a good experience builder against a team that has been a great water polo program.
“I think that it is a great learning experience playing against a high-level team like that. It’s great for our first years to start out and be competitive with a team like that,” Loggins said.
“I look at the positives that they are getting that experience and getting a ton of it this year,” Benson said. “This year may be full of a lot of growing pains. They are going to build a lot of confidence and get a lot of reps,” Benson said.
The Bulldogs will head out to their longest road trip of the season. They will play in the Arizona State Invitational in Tempe, March 10-11.