Lopes ecstatic to be in pool for first-ever match Thursday
By: Julie Laugel/GCU Club Sports Writing Staff
A year of preparation came down to this.
The Grand Canyon University Club Water Polo team finally saw outside competition Thursday night, facing the Ottawa University Spirit at GCU’s Antelope Pool. Although the Lopes suffered a 17-8 loss, the team made history by competing in the program’s first-ever competitive match.
“We’ve been practicing for a year now for a live game, so it’s exciting to finally get to do a competition here at GCU,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Sheri Hopper. “We’ve practiced everything you can leading up to it and had a lot of mental preparedness, but it looks like we have a lot of work to do still.”
The Lopes anticipated the competition would be tough – due to the Spirit having a few years of experience and a higher ratio of men to women, making some of the matchups more physically daunting for GCU.
The match started off tight, with both Ottawa and GCU’s Beau Merritt scoring goals within the first three minutes. Merritt’s goal was the Lopes’ sole scoring opportunity of the first quarter, though, as Ottawa sprinted to a 5-1 lead after one.
In the second quarter, both teams failed to find the net until the final three minutes. After a blocked Spirit shot attempt by GCU goalie Erica Wrightmann, Ottawa quickly responded with two goals. Merritt matched those before halftime to pull the Lopes within two at 7-3.
“We were low on players, and Beau came in this year and changed the speed of the game as well as the passion in the water,” said Hopper. “The other players play off of that, and it’s a really positive thing for the whole team.”
Merritt continued to dominate offensively in the third quarter, scoring the Lopes’ next three goals to keep them in the match. GCU captain Autumn Hilderbrand then snuck the ball past Ottawa goalie Zach Whiddon with three minutes left to cut the Ottawa lead to seven.
“We need to gain some stamina, but we ran our plays well,” said Merritt. “We got a little frightened when someone pressed us, so we have to be able to release the ball and get better at passing.”
Ottawa’s defense continued to fluster GCU in the final quarter, making them struggle to score. The Lopes ended the match on a high note with a final goal by Justin Garrido with only 20 seconds to spare.
“I thought we did excellent given the reversed roster, and it was a really good way to finish,” said Hopper. “We used the whole time, executed properly, and waited until there was an opening. Ottawa had a fabulous goalie and we learned how to get around him, which was really cool and fun to watch.”
Merritt led the offense with six total goals, while Hilderbrand and Garrido each added one.
“I haven’t played a real game since high school, so I was super excited just to get to play,” said Hilderbrand. “We need to work on recovering from drives and our positioning on defense. Our defense isn’t bad, (but) we were just in the wrong spots.”
The Lopes get a second chance for redemption, facing Ottawa University once again on Thursday, Mar. 26 at 6:30 pm at GCU’s Antelope Pool.
Interested in GCU Club Water Polo? Contact Head Coach Sheri Hopper for more information!