A late flurry of goals by the Fresno State women’s water polo team provided a happy ending to the team’s regular season as it defeated No. 22-ranked California Baptist University, 6-5, on Saturday.
Both teams started slowly on offense. The game went scoreless for the first five minutes until California Baptist attacker Amy Branch scored a goal, assisted by driver Lizette Perez, on a power play.
The Bulldogs were unable to take advantage of power plays resulting from CBU’s fouls, going 0-3. Several shots by Fresno State utility Callie Woodruff and freshman center Emily Nicholson came close to finding the net but just missed, and the Bulldogs were unable to come away with a goal after the first period.
“On our power play, we were indecisive and didn’t attack with aggression or intent. This was definitely an aspect that held us back and made the first half so lopsided on the scoreboard,” head coach Natalie Benson said.
The Lancers added to their lead a minute and a half into the second period on a goal by Annie Eubanks to make the score 2-0, but the Bulldogs refused to lie down.
The Bulldogs answered CBU two minutes into the second period on a long-range goal by freshman utility Natalie Espinoza to cut the Lancers lead in half, 2-1.
As has been an issue at times this season for the Bulldogs, they gave up a goal just 23 seconds later to Lancer Jaclyn Myers, and that was followed by another by Vickie Ochoa on a power play, again assisted by Perez.
Perez then added a goal of her own with just 17 seconds left in the first half on a penalty shot, getting the ball just past Bulldogs sophomore goalkeeper Madelynn Garcia. Despite outshooting the Lancers 16-13 in the first half, CBU came away with a sizable 5-1 lead at halftime.
The Lancers’ Eubanks nearly added another goal to her team’s lead on a long-range shot that hit the crossbar. Fresno State answered by getting a goal from freshman defender Sydney Coachman to cut the deficit to three.
Just a minute and 24 seconds later, the Bulldogs’ leading scorer, Woodruff, who finished the game with two goals, scored her team’s first power play goal to make the score 5-3.
The Bulldogs’ keeper, Garcia, came up big for her team as the third period came to an end by making two crucial saves to keep her team in the game. The Bulldogs still had work to do going into the fourth period as they trailed 5-3.
The Bulldogs came out firing in the final period. Nicholson went on a tear of her own by scoring two goals within the first two minutes and 20 seconds to level the score at 5. The ‘Dogs weren’t done with their onslaught of goals.
Less than a minute later, Woodruff scored on a penalty shot, and the Bulldogs took the lead with under five minutes left in the match.
Benson said that her team was more aggressive and intentional with its play and that was the key to the barrage of goals that led to the victory.
“I told them that if they are going to play scared and passive, they will lose,” Benson said. “They needed to choose to be their team’s hype-man and get fired up, as we were still in the game when it was 5-3. They earned this victory with their second-half play today, and I hope they are able to carry this lesson with them moving forward.”
With the regular season now complete, the Bulldogs hope to add to the story of their first year of women’s water polo at Fresno State with a strong showing at the Golden Coast Conference Championships April 27-29 followed by the NCAA Championships May 11.
Benson said that this season has been a great experience for her and the team and that she is exceptionally proud.
“These young ladies have come a long way, and I look forward to the challenges that the future presents,” she said.