Men's Sports, Men's Water Polo, Sports

Men’s water polo finishes fifth at MPSF tournament

The Long Beach State men’s water polo team had a right to be excited after making its first postseason appearance since 2008 and earning its best finish since 1981.

After falling to Stanford in the first round of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) tournament, the 49ers (24-8) came back to defeat UC Santa Barbara and Pacific and finish in fifth place overall.

If the 49ers expected a physical battle to start the tournament Friday, they certainly got one. The first round match took some unexpected turns, however, as circumstances beyond the 49ers’ control extended the game into a two-hour battle.

Just minutes before LBSU dove in for its match with Stanford (16-6), a fight broke out in the California-Pepperdine matchup. The officials tightened their grip in the next contest, issuing 25 exclusionary penalties.

The players agreed that the stakes of the MPSF Tournament brought a new level of competitiveness to the pool, but said that the fight had affected the rules of the contest.

“The intensity was definitely there. When the referees saw that fight go down, I felt like they weren’t going to let that happen again,” junior attacker Nick Rascon said. “They didn’t let us play much physically, especially in two meters.”

Luck seemed to be on the 49ers’ side late, as Zacchary Kappos skipped a shot in on goal from a half-pool away. Kappos’ shot glanced off a defender in front and got past Cardinal goalkeeper Scott Platshon.

The 49ers’ luck ran out in the third overtime though, as a season-long weakness victimized them. They lost the sprint to start the period, their sixth such loss in seven attempts in the game. Stanford then drew a penalty on the first possession of the golden goal period, and Alex Bowen took advantage to give the Cardinal their second one-goal victory over The Beach this season.

“One of the hardest things in sports is coming off heartbreak,” head coach Gavin Arroyo said. He also said that it would be tough to play the first game Saturday morning given the grinding and enduring nature of the Friday opener.

Arroyo’s worries were soon dispelled, however, as his team responded positively after the defeat. The 49ers earned a 14-11 win over UC Santa Barbara (15-13) despite more questionable officiating.

LBSU started the game in a 4-0 hole, but the 49er offense erupted for seven goals in the final ten minutes of the first half to take a 7-6 lead. That lead quickly disappeared, however, thanks to an unusual call by the officials.

Earlier in the second quarter, the 49ers were called for a pair of yellow cards. Devin Mefford received the first, and Milos Vrzic received the second. By rule, Vrzic should have been issued a red card, ejecting him from the game. Vrzic, however, remained in the game until the conclusion of the half.

At halftime, the officials reviewed the situation and agreed that the miscue was a correctable error. The clock was reset to 4:02 with the 49ers down, 5-4, and Vrzic done for the day. LBSU was forced to play catch-up again, but Nolan McConnell’s goal with 1:19 left tied the score at 6.

“It was frustrating when it happened,” said Kappos of the confusion in the second quarter. “We tried not to play down to our opponent or the refs.”

The ‘Niners eventually pulled away with six goals in the third quarter to defeat the Gauchos.

In the fifth-place game, the 49ers defeated Pacific to secure their best MPSF tournament finish under Arroyo.

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