2020 Women’s Water Polo Triton Invite Report: Arizona State Tops Host UCSD for Third

UC San Diego's Bennett Bugelli in action last weekend. Photo Courtesy: Derrick Tuskan

LA JOLLA, CA. The Canyonview Aquatic Center at the University of California at San Diego is as perfect a venue for a big-time water polo tournament as any in America. The pristine facility has two 50 meter pools approximately 50 yards apart, conveniently separated by locker rooms and a climbing center. The UC San Diego Athletic department has been hosting major tournaments for 40 years, including four NCAA polo championships (three men’s, one women’s)—so they know how to conduct a great event.

And the Tritons are conscious of all details, large and small, such as a nifty 11 x 14 inch program (included with admission) that has the entire schedule and all team rosters. It’s a great reference for all fans who attend (and the coaches gobble up copies too).

All of which made this year’s Triton Invitational, with 16 teams playing a total of 32 games in a span of 34 hours—four for each contestant—a great early season test for some of the nation’s top varsity women’s polo programs.


Canyonview Aquatics Center. Photo Courtesy: Architects HGW

It is the first of two major tournaments held in February, the other being the Barbara Kalbus Invitational hosted by UC Irvine, which will take place in two weekends. Like the Kalbus Invite, the Triton Invite allows teams to measure their progress in the season’s opening month. The tournament plays off all 16 places, so by Sunday afternoon, the match-ups are extremely competitive.

It also provides coaches an invaluable opportunity to capture video on future opponents and scout the games live. NCAA by-laws allow in-person scouting only during tournaments, but not dual games once the tournament phase of the season is completed.

16 teams, 32 games, one champion: UCLA

The 16 teams that met last weekend on the La Jolla campus, included four teams from the MPSF, six from the Big West, including newcomer UCSD, and three from the GCC. The other entrants were Marist College, Pomona-Pitzer, and Villanova, a new entrant from the East (led by former Triton player and women’s head coach Larry Sanders). Seedings are based on the Collegiate Water Polo Association Top-25 varsity poll from the first week of February.

In Saturday morning’s first round of games there was one upset, as #19 Indiana beat #9 (T) UC Davis 12-11 in overtime. There were two other one-goal games on Saturday morning, with #12 Long Beach State holding off #16 LMU 8-7 and #9 (T) UC Santa Barbara edging #21 San Diego State 3-2.

The second round of games took place Saturday afternoon and produced one upset. #8 Arizona State came back from an early 6-2 deficit to take down #5 UC Irvine 10-9 and win the bracket. The other bracket winners were #1 USC, #3 UCLA, and #7 UCSD, who handled Big West foe UCSB 11-7. The semifinals on Sunday morning featured the Trojans against the host Tritons. USC—the six time defending Triton Invite title holders—prevailed 14-11. After trailing 5-2, the nation’s top-ranked squad rallied to take a 10-9 lead after three periods then pulled away in the fourth. UCLA faced fellow MPSF member Arizona State and prevailed 11-8.

This set the stage for enticing fifth, third and first place games: One all Big West match-up, one Big West vs. MPSF and an all-MPSF final between the Trojans and Bruins. UCSB and UCI played for 5th, UCSD and ASU for third, and USC and UCLA for first.

Sun Devils overpower host Tritons for third


Arizona State’s Itzhiana Baca Photo Courtesy: ASU Athletics

Arizona State is one of the largest universities in the country, with just over 51,000 students attending full time.  Yet their water polo roster is one of the nation’s smallest; 14 members, including only 10 field players.  So a four-game tournament format is a challenge for the Sun Devils to tackle.  Additionally, six of the players are newcomers to the Tempe campus.

Head Coach Todd Clapper summarized the challenge: “I think we’re going to be better in a one game a day or one game a weekend scenario where we have a little bit of time to prepare for that team than these tournaments,”  he said “I think that’s actually not a big strength for us right now with so many young players and not the deepest bench.”

Despite the ASU coach’s assessment, his team collected three wins, including a 13-8 defeat of the host UCSD in the 3rd place game on cool, overcast Sunday afternoon.  The Tritons, who had acquitted themselves well vs top seed USC in the semis before falling 14-11, came out trading goals with the Sun Devils in the first period, and tied the game at three on Grace Pevehouse’s second goal of the game.

The Devils then went on a three-goal run which spilled into the second quarter for a 6-3 lead. UCSD closed to within 7-6 on markers by Karis Couch and Taylor Onstott.  ASU responded with another three goal spurt, which included two goals from center by Amira Van Buren and a shot from Hungarian sophomore Borbala Kekesi, to make the score 10-6.  The Tritons grabbed the first two scores of the fourth quarter, before ASU converted another trio of markers to reach the final tally.

ASU was dominant from the center position notching six goals as Meghan Beaudet shot a perfect four for four and Van Buren chipped in two.  Kekesi played a sharp all around game, scoring three times and collecting two assists.  Sun Devil first-year keeper Itzahiana Baca made 12 saves while facing 34 shots.  UC San Diego, who should earn a decent seeding at the Kalbus Invite, was led by Pevehouse and Onstott with three goals apiece.

Both teams will head to Irvine in two weeks with good momentum. The Tritons earned one of their highest-ever finishes in their own tournament and acquitted themselves well against MPSF teams in the pressure of a semifinal and third place games.

Arizona State is in a good spot early in the season and their coach, now in his 15th season in Tempe, said as much,

“It’s been awesome…for us to get a big win coming from behind against Irvine last night…we changed our defense we didn’t have anything to lose at that point to go for a press,” Clapper said. “That got the team energized they played great with that” he explained.  “I think we are in a better place than I thought we might be after last weekend.  We beat some really good teams this weekend.”

Clapper offered a measured critique of his young squad.  “We were OK against UCLA, but Irvine is a really strong team and UC San Diego is a really strong team, they had some big wins early,” he said, then summed up what was a winning weekend: “I feel really good where we’re at right now and excited to get a little rest and start working towards getting a little better so we can do some damage at the Kalbus Invitational.”

Anteaters shut down UC Santa Barbara for Fifth Place


Tara Prentice Photo Courtesy: UCI

Coming into the game, both teams had remarkable results earlier in the year with the Gauchos upsetting UCLA in the first game of the year and UC Irvine knocking off California. The Anteaters led 5-4 at intermission on the strength of Tara Prentice, who converted two penalty shots plus a natural goal. The Gauchos had four different goal scorers: Amelia Meckelborg, Mollie Simmons, Kate Coski, and Amanda Legaspi.

The second half opened with Prentice striking again on a power play in the first minute. On the ensuing possession, Prentice was charged with a penalty foul, but Anteaters goalie Morgan Jones blocked the shot. UCI added two more third quarter goals by lefty Dani Ayala and freshman Elena Flynn to lead 8-4 heading to the fourth. Junior Toni Shackelford skipped in a goal in the first minute of the 4th quarter for Irvine and her team held off six Gaucho power-plays in the final period for a 10-4 victory.

After the game, UCI Head coach Dan Klatt explained the 2nd half shutout was the result of persistence.

“As the game wore on, we were able to read out the game a little bit better, the plan didn’t really change but the execution of the plan changed” he said. “Every time we play a conference opponent we know it’s going to be tough, it may not always be reflected in the score. Our players know each other well and it’s a lot of fun.”

After a 3-1 weekend—and a season that’s opened with some big wins as well as surprising losses—Klatt is searching for consistency.

“We’ve got to figure out how to win a one goal game,” he said. “We’ve got three losses this year all by one goal: to Stanford, Cal, and ASU. We need to figure out how to be on the other side of those.” After 18 seasons as a head coach, he’s got a theory: “I think its an attitude, you would think it’s one play, but really it’s a combination of plays and an attitude throughout the game. But we’ve got to talk about it and figure out as a group how we get over that hump and we find ourselves on the better side of that” Klatt added.

His team will have an immediate opportunity to test the theory; this Saturday the Anteaters will travel to USC for a game against the Trojans, who—following a loss to the Bruins—will be ranked second or third in the nation.