Cal Lutheran history made by Kingsmen water polo team

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Photo contributed by Isabel De Souza

The Kingsmen brought the water polo SCIAC tournament title to Cal Lutheran for the first time in the program’s history.

Marcel Hurtubise, Reporter

California Lutheran University’s Kingsmen water polo team made program history with their first-ever Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament win.

The Kingsmen beat the Redlands Bulldogs 8-5 on Nov. 20 in the SCIAC tournament final. This was the first time since 2008 when they lost to Pomona-Pitzer that the Kingsmen were in the finals of the SCIAC tournament. 

The team has made history since the first game of the season, as they beat National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I team Bucknell University for the first time ever with a final score of 13-12 at the 2022 Navy Open. 

“We were still trying to figure each other out chemistry-wise,” senior attacker Taylor Garcia said. “Bucknell being our first win against them in program history definitely set the tone.”

In their first SCIAC game of the year, the Kingsmen took their match against Pomona-Pitzer into overtime, which Garcia said was another pivotal moment for the season.

“Personally, I feel like we made a lot of mistakes, but I think that just showed that we could go all the way to overtime with them and that we had the ability to beat them,” Garcia said.

Fifth-year utility player Dillon Goldsmith said that some players thought this would end up being a rebuilding year for the team as multiple Kingsmen graduated  last year. 

“This whole season has been new to us because last year a couple of the guys were saying this was going to be a rebuilding year,” Goldsmith said. “But, I mean, we find ourselves to be an elite program. I think that going back east with a newer team, a couple vets, but a newer team…I think we were trying to put the puzzle pieces together.”

The team’s ability to come together despite losing seniors can be traced back to Interim Head Coach Cody Pletcher’s goal for this season, which Pletcher said was the process of each individual and how to grow as a team, rather than win the tournament. 

Leading up to the SCIAC tournament, the Kingsmen faced adversity against Chapman, losing twice to them. Chapman ended up being their first round match in the tournament.

“Going into Chapman, they beat us twice, so we were looking to figure out a way to combat the things they had done well against us,” Pletcher said. “One of the things against Chapman was our offense against them was as productive as we thought we needed it to be.”

Garcia said that the win against Chapman was another pivotal moment for the team.

“Against Chapman, that was technically our first playoff since I’ve been here, so that was good to set the tone,” Garcia said.

The Kingsmen were able to take the match 17-14 against Chapman. 

The following semifinal match against Occidental proved an arduous one with four extra quarters of overtime required. After the fourth quarter ended with a 13-13 tie, the teams entered two quarters of overtime. When overtime ended in another draw, 15-15, two more quarters were played until Goldsmith scored a goal, sending Cal Lutheran to the final. 

Pletcher said that the game against Occidental could have gone either way, and was a championship-worthy one. 

“We knew that they were going to play very well, and they did,” Pletcher said. “One of their two-meter players had the chance to win the game for them in the first sudden death overtime period and didn’t… In my opinion, that was more of like the SCIAC championship game there.”

Pletcher attributed their win to their knowledge of Occidental and their game plan. They prepared through emulating the kind of conditions they were going to be under during the match.

“We know Oxy very well and so I think we felt very comfortable going in there. I think the crowd affected us,” Pletcher said. “But we got our guys prepared for that. We were yelling at them all week into cones, hollering at them, trying to get in their head. And I think it really prepared us for what we experienced at Oxy.”

Garcia reiterated the significance of the Occidental game. 

“Occidental was definitely the championship game,” Garcia said. “Eight quarters, their home court, hundreds of fans all surrounding us. I was more ecstatic for that, I was definitely jumping up and down for that.”

Goldsmith said that their win came from the hard work put in by each player throughout the season.

“I think we played a two hours and something minute game, so it was definitely a lot of time in the water, but that’s just something we’ve conditioned for,” Goldsmith said. “I think it’s the hardest working program, at least the last five years that I’ve been here…That endurance and just using that extra energy to finish off the game when it mattered was very important for us.”

The Redlands game started out with the Kingsmen in the lead 3-1. The Bulldogs were able to catch up 4-4 by the end of the third quarter, but the Kingsmen buried them with four goals in the last period, ending the game 8-5. The game ended in a trick shot from Brown during a 5-meter penalty.

“When Ben scored that trick shot 5-meter, it definitely gave a lot of wind in our sails that’s for sure,” Goldsmith said.

Pletcher said that winning the SCIAC tournament is significant for everyone involved with the water polo team, and will allow for more opportunities for the future. 

“It was a very special moment,” Pletcher said. “It’s always a cliche, they say words can’t express it, but they can’t. It’s the dream come true, but it’s always what can you do next in sports. The next thing is trying to win a national championship. But winning that game against Redlands was very very special, for myself, for the program, for the players. It’s gonna open up a lot of doors.”

Though the team is losing some experienced players, the team is confident that their young talent can continue the legacy that the seniors put in place.

“We never think that each year is a rebuilding year, we think that every year we have a chance to a championship. It was awesome to see all these freshmen, Bo, and all these other guys, Nic, Brody, Bryan, Aiden, Jack, all these guys step up,” Garcia said. “We definitely focused on instilling this culture for the next couple years. We don’t want it to die with us … We wanted to make sure the next few years are in good hands because we really care about this program.”