The Chapman men’s water polo team split its two games at the annual Inland Empire Classic in Redlands, winning 9-8 over Redlands and losing to USC 21-6.
Chapman entered the tournament ranked second out of 12 Division III water polo teams. However, it was Redlands who started the game looking like the higher-ranked team, taking a 5-1 lead that lasted through the first quarter.
“We had a rough start against Redlands, but a lot of our new guys really stepped up, and that’s what won the game for us,” said sophomore goalie Ian Decker of the Redlands matchup.
Decker’s words were backed up by the Panthers’ strong showing in the final three quarters of the game, which saw Chapman only concede one goal in each of the final three quarters, as the team’s impressive defense shined through. Freshman Chris Garau touted the Panthers’ high endurance as a key factor in reclaiming control over the game.
“[Redlands] got tired. They stopped chasing at their half, and that’s really when we took the game as we kept wearing them out,” Garau said.
That persistence led the Panthers to an eventual 9-8 victory.
Though Redlands is a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic conferance (SCIAC) member along with Chapman, the game will not count towards eithers’ conference records.
In the second game, the third-ranked team in Division I, USC, throttled the Panthers, 21-6.
For Panthers’ head coach Eric Ploessel, non-conference games against enormous programs such as USC are less about the result and more about the experience gained by his players that can be carried into the rest of the season.
“Games like the one against USC are more meaningful in the way that guys on our team can go into our season being able to say things like, ‘I scored a goal against a player who’s going to be playing in the Olympics,’ or ‘I got that assist’ or ‘I made that block’…so it’s more about gaining that experience in playing against some of the best players in the country,” Ploessel said.
The Panthers’ season continues this weekend when they face off against California Baptist and Fresno Pacific in the Lancer Invitational Saturday in Riverside.
Conferance play will not begin until Chapman travels to California Lutheran Oct. 18.