For Now, Wagner Claims New York Water Polo Bragging Rights With Win Over LIU

Carlota Alonso

For Now, Wagner Claims New York Water Polo Bragging Rights With Win Over LIU

BROOKLYN, NY. In a rematch of last year’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference women’s water polo championship final, Wagner College, for a decade the MAAC’s top team, crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge from Staten Island to face the upstart Sharks of Long Island University.

Coaches might soft-pedal a regular season rivalry, but the LIU fans who crowded the narrow decks at the Steinberg Wellness Center knew that this was must-see polo. They shouted and banged on anything available but for naught: the Seahawks broke open a close match in the second half to record a 13-10 victory.

I’m super proud of the kids—how they played and handled adversity,” Wagner Head Coach Josh Hower said on the pool deck. “It was an electric environment and fun to be part of.”

LIU Head Coach Gabby Juarez was sanguine regarding the outcome, as her top priority is preparing for the postseason.

“We wanted to play this game hard to understand where things go wrong—and know what works for us,” she said after the match. “It means something in regard to regular season placings, but all that matters is championships.”

Ah yes, championships. After a run of six-straight MAAC titles—interrupted only in 2021 due to Covid—last May the Seahawks were prepped for yet another conference crown as well as the MAAC’s automatic NCAA berth. The Sharks swooped in and did what no other MAAC team had done in eight years: beat the Seahawks in the water. They captured a gutty 13-12 overtime decision in the MAAC championship final, claiming their first-ever conference title and NCAA berth.

LIU Water Polo Fans

Courtesy: Michael Randazzo

On Sunday, the LIU-crazed fans—former polo athletes, families, friends and members of the LIU’s men’s volleyball team—were all-in for an intense contest. A young program that has only played women’s polo since 2020, building a passionate fan base represents a major accomplishment for Juarez and her players.

“It’s a drawback having half-shallow/half-deep [pool at LIU] but having a home game with our fans is great,” said LIU’s original and only coach.

“I loved the support from LIU fans—it makes me feel welcome,” said Sydney deVroedt, a transfer this year from St. Francis Brooklyn. “When you come into a game like this it’s nice to know fans have your back.”

Not everyone welcomed the heightened atmosphere. Wagner’s Carlota Alfonso, who registered five goals, said: “We have been preparing for this the whole season because of the final [last year]. We want to win the championship and playing at the LIU pool we knew was going to be hard.”

After two physical periods in LIU’s shallow-deep configuration, where teams switch sides every quarter, the Seahawks held a 5-4 lead. They took advantage of the Sharks having to defend deep water in period three, expanding their lead to 10-7, then were never headed as they closed out the win, their sixth in seven meetings all-time.

Coach Hower was pleased with his Seahawks’ performance, singling out Alonso, captain Pip Nash (three goals) and Andrea Arias (a goal, five earned exclusions) as significant contributors to the win.

“It means a lot for us to execute at a high level—to do the standard of what we’re doing on defense and [to] focus on ourselves,” Hower said, then added: “everything we’re doing in conference, it’s a next step for accomplishing what we want to.”

Saying that this year was “completely different” from 2023, Hower downplayed the win, saying: “It’s not a revenge game—it doesn’t mean anything other than it’s a conference opponent.”

Like Juarez, Hower pointed out: it’s really all about how you finish. 

“It’s about our journey to become the best version of ourselves,” he said. “[T]he 2023 team was very special; we executed a lot of our goals but didn’t tick that final box—but still had a fantastic year”

And no mention of the streak from the coach—now 95 straight against MAAC foes during the regular season. Alonso then put that about the streak in a box and wrapped it up.

“The streak at the end is just a number,” she said. “It’s nice to keep winning games but… the important part is a championship.

Juarez also doesn’t dwell on the past, instead focusing on what lies ahead, including qualifying for a postseason berth for a fourth consecutive season. 

“As long as we do what we need for the next two weekends we should go to the [MAAC] tournament,” she said. 

With coaches sidestepping the obvious, it took a newcomer to provide context for what’s become a full-blown rivalry in the Big Apple.

“I love playing this level and style of water polo,” deVroedt gushed after the match. It’s amazing!”

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