After a tough couple of months riddled with losses and injuries, the Lancer water polo team was forced to forfeit the remainder of their season after two players suffered concussions, including their goalie Natalie Wassall.
Though the forfeit has been a blow to the team, head coach Terry Stoddard does not see the forfeit as something inherently bad.
“Stuff happens, I don’t consider it a weakness, it’s unfortunate for the two athletes,” said Stoddard. “The team is insignificant in comparison to the health of any one athlete on our team. To have two of these happen was very unfortunate. We’re here to get an education and to do a great job as a team.”
Team members share the slight dismay in the forfeit, but are still optimistic, such as center/attacker Fernanda Alvarez.
“I feel like right now we’re all disappointed that we couldn’t finish the season how we wanted to finish it and we didn’t get to experience what maybe other players have in the past,” said Alvarez. “But I mean we did work very hard, I think we worked really well together, and our offense is getting better, our defense is getting better.”
The team’s sole second-year, center forward Yesenia Marin, thought that the group’s misfortunes started even before losing Wassall.
“It first began with our trip to Santa Cruz being canceled, everyone was feeling down and was really bummed about the trip, but we kept moving forward,” Marin said. “Then our goalie was diagnosed with a concussion and we were a player short. Most of my teammates stopped showing up to practice. It was really hard to keep everyone motivated to keep showing up to practice.”
However, despite the negatives that came with this season, players were still able to show their talents, especially considering the team was almost all freshmen.
“Natalie was a huge part, she was a great goalie, [with] her, who knows how everything would have ended,” said Alvarez. “I think having all freshmen on the team helped kind of, because we were all new, we were all trying to get the hang of things. I think that’s something that helped us, it wasn’t just a separated group like sophomores and freshmen, we were all together on the same boat.”
Coach Stoddard expressed his appreciation for this years team, specifically for Marin and Wassall, with the freshman goalie having 60 saves and 23 steals this season.
“The highlights were primarily Yesenia, our one returning sophomore, [with] her leadership, and a lot of communication, both offensively and defensively but also primarily just what she brings as a returning player, knowing the system,” he said. “And then Natalie, understands the game very very well. Her vision and her understanding of the geometry of angles and shots took a lot of shots away from the opposing team.”
“I think our team defense could have been a little bit better, which made [Wassall] a little more vulnerable,” Stoddard continued. “Regardless, whether she was or she wasn’t, she did very very well with a great number saves, but more importantly is her steals, for a goalie to come out of the cage, she led the team in steals.”
For Marin, the team’s strong point was the LA Valley College tournament, specifically because of the team’s health and perseverance.
“I think one of our key moments was in one our first tournament games at LA Valley College, we had just enough girls to play, and we had got multiple kick-outs back to back,” she said. “We were playing 4 on 6, with two girls down and we managed to keep up our offense and defense and win the game. This gave me tremendous hope for what our season could have been.”
With this season now behind them, the team now looks to what they can do when next year comes around, considering they will have many sophomore players with some experience under their belts. Stoddard hopes to build on the returning talent.
“My approach would be to condition well [and] work on the team,” he said. “What these returning freshmen will bring to the table next year is to understand the system, play good solid defense.We have one of the best shooting teams we’ve ever had…[we’ll] build on that for the future, build on having that team defense.”
Alvarez stresses that health and the prospect of a clean slate is important for a successful season next year.
“I think we should be excited to have a new season and start fresh,” she said. “Hopefully everyone will be healthy and we’ll have more players than we did this year, next year. But I think we’re looking forward to next season so we can have a full good and healthy season.”
As for Marin, this was her second and last season with the team, but has trust that they will press on to reach the success they did not get a chance to prove this year
“I hope that the girls on the team this season keep their spirits high and push forward for next season,” she said. “I know that with good leadership and encouragement the team can excel the way we were supposed to this season.”