Marist beats Iona In Water Polo Match That’s More Than Just A Game

2017 UCSB Winter Invitational Water Polo
Photo Courtesy: Eric Isaacs/Marist Athletics

Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

Rivalry games have an intensity that often transcends all other competition. Facing one’s bitterest opponent often unleashes an unpredictable—and occasionally—uncontrollable emotional factor (think Duke vs. North Carolina in men’s basketball).  An additional factor—like a former player or coach changing sides— can transform long-standing antagonism for better… or worse.

Which is what the Iona and Marist women’s water polo teams experienced when they faced each other last weekend at Siena College.

Chris Vidale—a long-time member of Iona water polo, first as a player from 2003-07, then for eight years as an assistant coach on both the men’s and women’s side—last fall committed the ultimate rivalry sin: he took the head coaching job at Marist.

Since 2003 these two programs have clashed repeatedly in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), with each squad winning four MAAC titles, including six straight seasons (2008—13) where Iona and Marist played each other in the finals. The Gaels won titles from 2011-13 while the Red Foxes captured three straight in 2008, 2009 and 2010.

When the two teams played last Sunday for the first time this season, Vidale was behind the Marist bench for one of the more compelling matches of any MAAC season. The Red Foxes (12-11; 4-1 MAAC) came back from a three goal deficit in the fourth quarter, outscoring their archrivals 7-2 to capture a 13-11 overtime win against the Gaels (6-9; 2-3 MAAC).

Given the emotions crackling in the Marcelle Athletic Complex pool, it’s no surprise that facing Brian Kelly, his former coach and mentor, was a bit much for the new Marist coach and his players.

“My emotions were getting the best of me,” Vidale admitted.

When Assistant Coach Tamar Perea told him at the start of the pivotal fourth quarter that his intensity was affecting the team, Vidale—with experience coaching the New York Athletic Club’s women’s team as well as the boys at Greenwich High School—immediately reined in his emotions.

“At that point things started turning around for us,” he said. “We came up with some good stops, some good goals and took it to overtime.”

“It’s Marist vs. Iona,” Kelly, since 1995 head coach for both the Gael men and women, said about the rivalry between the two New York schools. “It was a really physical game.”

Despite a difficult loss, he showered praise on his opposite number for the Red Foxes.

“It’s a little different with Chris being a former player, former coach and a great friend,” said Kelly, who also played for the Gaels from 1990-94. “Chris is at Marist now but he’ll always be part of the Iona family. He was instrumental in helping us win three MAAC titles and make six straight MAAC championships.”

schultz-iona-03-30-17

Photo Courtesy: Iona Athletics

In the water, Iona was led by junior Hannah Schultz’s six goals—part of a run of four straight games where the reigning MAAC Offensive Player of the Week has tallied 22 goals. On the season, Schultz leads all MAAC players with 54 goals.

Kelly had high praise for his star scorer—who, in his opinion, is not only a scorer.

“She can do anything on offense and defense,” he said. “Obviously I’m biased but if you look at what she does for our team, she’s MVP of the league.”

Key to the game was Iona’s short bench—the Gaels dressed only 10 players—and 12 exclusions, to five for Marist. In the second half junior Karli Normand was disqualified with three ejections, causing Iona to play with just two subs.

Kelly believed that his players had multiple chances to put the match away in the fourth quarter, but simply couldn’t connect.

“Our first three possessions we should have scored,” he lamented. “It’s a different game if we do that,”

Marist registered hat-tricks by three seniors: co-captains Amanda Amorosa and Jocelyn McQuade, and Nastassia McGlothlin.

“Those three really came up big – not only on offense but also defensively,” Vidale said.

The Red Foxes were able to take advantage of their depth as well as confidence gained from earlier overtime wins against Cal State Bakersfield and Cal State Northridge—which their coach credits to hard work.

“Once a week in practice we’ll play a game of six quarters,” he explained. “At the start of overtime I said: ‘six quarters is our game’ and the team got really fired up.”

Coach Kelly acknowledged that in water polo’s tight-knit community what matters most are bonds developed over time—not just the results of a game or two.

“I’m really happy for Chris and his family—Betsey and their son Frankie,” he said. “Our friendship will only strengthen with competition.”

Which will happen soon enough. The Gaels and Red Foxes face off again on April 8 at St. Francis College in Brooklyn.