By Toan P. Do
Many people are skeptical banana slugs can swim. If these skeptics were present at the beginning of this year’s men’s water polo season, they’d be proven wrong. The team began its season superbly, swimming into six wins out of their first eight matches.
Since then, the Slugs have been humbled, losing the next nine games straight and dropping their record to 6-11. When the team played Santa Cruz last Sunday its luck didn’t change. Santa Clara whopped the Slugs 17-3, leaving the crowd of Slug fans quiet and exasperated.
“I’m frustrated because a lot of the things we didn’t do [during the game] are the things that we spent all week practicing,” head coach Grant Shubin said. “They are one of the top teams in our conference, so [at least] we can know how it is to play at that level and hopefully prepare ourselves to compete with them as opposed to just being run on.”
The Slugs depended too much on their offensive strategy of getting the ball into the 2-meter range before taking a shot, he said.
“We played with tunnel vision and only tried to use one option offensively, like robots, and it was not successful,” Shubin said. “We kept looking for the 2-meters in the center and were getting nothing and they recognized that. They saw that we were unproductive at 2-meters, so whenever the ball went in there, they would just send their guys on offense.”
Santa Clara scored on its first possession, immediately followed by a quick breakaway counterattack that resulted in an unguarded player scoring Santa Clara’s second goal within a minute’s time.
After that, Santa Clara began to score at will, swimming more quickly and making sharper passes than the Slugs. Before the fans knew it, the score was 7-0 and then 8-0 while the Slugs hadn’t even attempted their first shot.
Counterattacks proved to be one of the Slug’s main weaknesses.
“They beat us on counterattacks,” said team captain junior Brian Fischl. “I’d say more than half their goals were counterattacks, which means that we made mistakes and they beat us down the pool and scored.”
Driver sophomore Connor Huff said the team could not handle the ball in the perimeter.
“We just gave up easy counter goals, and you can’t do that,” Huff said.
Sophomore goalkeeper Sam Blum was helpless in front of the goal, calling out to his teammates for help on defense. He blocked many shots, but not enough to slow the onslaught of Santa Clara’s relentless offense.
Finally, Huff scored the Slugs’ first goal before the first half ended, putting them on the board. At halftime the score was 10-1.
The Slugs came out of the half with increased defensive intensity. The third quarter was the most evenly matched, as the Slugs held Santa Clara to only four goals.
In contrast, the Slug offense remained weak. Fischl scored one goal during the third quarter and sophomore Gunther Gettlefinger scored in the fourth, but the deficit was too large to overcome.
The Slugs have a week to recover from this loss and prepare themselves for their next match on Sunday at home against Stanford.
“We’re a pretty solid team, but we just don’t recognize things the way we should and that causes problems,” Fischl said. “If we can fix those stupid mistakes then we’re fine.”