This article was originally published in ZU News.
The Azusa Pacific water polo team has already outmatched their win total from last season with three weeks left to go in the season. They currently sit at 12-10 overall. After piecing together a five-game winning streak, which was followed by two losses, the Cougars are back on the right track.
The Cougars last loss came against Hartwick, the 18th ranked team in the country. They held tight with Hartwick through the first three quarters, behind only one goal 7-8, before Hartwick rallied for four straight goals to win 12-8.
“We played really well. We never gave up and kept fighting throughout the whole game and I think we had good teamwork and communication throughout,” senior center Alex Paxton said.
Paxton was one of eight players to score during that game.
“We’re not just a one-man team,” junior goalkeeper Erica Marquez said. “That goes to show how we’re pretty evenly spread across the board. We have a strong team.”
Marquez did not score a goal, but she had more steals than the rest of the team combined with five, and seven saves in total. She noted the significance of teamwork that APU played with. This aspect of teamwork was seconded by head coach Julie Snodgrass.
“Tenacious would be a good word to describe how they play,” Snodgrass said. “They play with good teamwork, and it shows on the stats.”
Junior attacker Britt Harris noted how physical Hartwick played, something typical of east coast teams.
“They’re one of the most aggressive teams we’ve played. It’s like you have to play water polo and fight for your life,” Harris said.
Harris noted that this game was very challenging, but not the hardest that they’ve played. During the five-game win streak, the team had several players suffer injuries.
“Everyone felt like they needed to step up in a sense because we had a few starters out,” Harris said. “It’s a group effort. We never felt like we were down and out of it. We played to the last second.”
During the win streak, the Cougars outscored their opponents 50-19. They had wins over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, University of Redlands, Concordia (twice) and Villanova.
“We had a lot of challenges come. Not only the wins were great, but we overcame a lot of obstacles as well,” Marquez said.
Marquez noted how different this year was than last year for the team.
“This year our team is really small but mighty. We’ve really banded together. I think overcoming obstacles has brought us closer,” Marquez said. “We just have a lot of trust in each other. We’ve spent a long time training together throughout the season.”
This year has also been a lot different for the Cougars because they haven’t played as many UC school opponents compared to previous seasons.
“Last year we played a lot of Division-I schools and just tried to stay alive. This year we had teams that we could compete with and beat,” Paxton said. “We honed in our skills. We’re a lot closer together.”
The team has five games left on their schedule, including three teams in the Top-25. Players such as Paxton believe they have a much better chance against top teams this time around.
“All of the teams in the conference are going through struggles, not just us. I think we can pull together as a team and power it out and beat a lot of teams that we haven’t in the past,” Paxton said.
Snodgrass stated that she is proud of her team’s effort and tenacity, and that she’s excited for the rest of the season.
“As a team, we’re just focused on playing the best water polo we can play,” Snodgrass said. “I think they’re on that trajectory and it’s fun to watch.”
On March 31, the Cougars earned a much needed win against Santa Clara University. In a close battle, APU won 10-9 in overtime, which is the Cougars fourth overtime game of the season.
Now the Cougars will look to use their recent win to re-gain momentum as they head down the final stretch, with only four more regular season matches remaining. On April 6, APU will play Fresno Pacific at Charter Oak High School.