These Sharks Have Bite! LIU Wins First-Ever Match at 2020 Bruno Women’s Water Polo Classic

LIU Women’s Water Polo vs Brown University. - Photo By: KEITH NORDSTROM
LIU goalie Julie Zebak stands tall at the Bruno Classic last weekend, where the Sharks played their first-ever match. Photo Courtesy: Keith Nordstrom

PROVIDENCE, RI. Starting a collegiate water polo program from scratch presents numerous obstacles, and the path to success is by no means assured. Case in point: in 2016, La Salle launched men’s and women’s polo at the same time, and it took three years and a new coach for the Explorers to find their way to respectability. Along that path, their women’s team lost 37-straight matches; only last year did they not only end that ignominious streak but they also broke double-digits in wins for the first time ever.

LIU_Sharks_JAN20Long Island University and its coach, Gabby Juarez, did not have to wait that long for success. On Sunday at Brown’s Kathryn Graham Aquatics Center, the Sharks won for the first time in their history, beating Austin College 12-4. Leading the way for LIU were Alejandra Aranguren with three goals and Jenna Anderson, Jessica Dean and Erin Pascal with two apiece. Aranguren, a center from Haileah, Florida, has proven to be quite a find for Juarez, chipping in 10 goals in an opening weekend of play that saw the Sharks go 1-3, including a tough 9-7 loss to St. Francis University on Sunday.

Invaluable to a young program lacking depth—LIU currently fields 11 athletes until Hannah Perry, the squad’s lone upperclassman recovers from injury—is Julia Zebak. Primarily a goalie, the Edmonton, Canada native came off the bench to play the field in both of Sunday’s matches, providing strong defense for the Sharks.

Zebak’s attitude, and that of her teammates, is refreshing, especially for a new program looking to rise above the din of competing in one of the world’s busiest cities.

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Shark attack! LIU fights for the ball.Photo Courtesy: Patrick Hughes Jr.

“The game itself was incredible,” she said after backstopping the Sharks in their very first match on Saturday, a 10-6 loss to host Brown.

“When you’re starting out, you have to learn the players around you and learn to work together with them,” said Zebak, describing her role on the team. “Water polo is like a chess game; the goalie gets to tell which player to go where. At the end of the day, we all work together to win.”

The host Bears enjoyed a winning weekend at their own tournament, but it did end on a sour note as #18 (T) Wagner jumped out to an early three goal lead and coasted to a 17-11 victory. The loss extends a disturbing trend for Head Coach Felix Mercado’s program: inability to beat ranked teams. In 12 contests last season against teams ranked in the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Top-25 polls, the Bears came away with only one win. A 5-1 record over three days at home is noteworthy; a win over the Seahawks would have made for a fantastic outcome to the Bruno Classic for the Bears.

Earlier in the day Brown took care of business against Whittier, a Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference team opening their season at a premier East Coast tournament. Katie Klein had a hat trick as the host team burst out to a nine-goal lead in the third before closing out the Poets 11-3.

Whittier did leave on a high note; they beat St. Francis 13-10 behind four goals from Sawyer Bellville.

St. Francis also closed out the weekend with a win, beating the Sharks behind four goals from freshman Taylor Halbauer. Like Zebak a native of Edmonton, Halbauer enjoyed a fast start to her Red Flash career, scoring 11 goals as Head Coach Jay O’Neil’s squad split four matches in Providence.

Siena finished 1-3 in it’s first weekend of play under new head coach Alex Williams, dropping a 16-10 decision to Bucknell to close out play.

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Brown’s Lauren Burns with a save against Wagner’s Skye Nankervis. Photo Courtesy: Patrick Hughes Jr.

Bucknell, Furano dominate in Providence

The unquestioned offensive star of the weekend was Bucknell’s Ally Furano. After setting a program record Saturday with eight goals in a 16-12 win over Marist, the junior from Stamford, Connecticut added 10 more goals Sunday in wins over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Siena to up her weekend haul to 22. The Bison are now 4-0 on this young season, and Furano, whose sister Paige is also on Head Coach John McBride’s squad, has picked up where she left off last season, when she delivered 123 goals and 55 assists to lead the squad.

It was not all smooth sailing Sunday for the Bison. The teams’ match grew contentious after a third quarter collision between Bucknell’s Kali Hyham and CMS goalie Jessica Salaz, who left the game with a nasty cut on her forehead.

This sparked a rally by the Athenas, another SCIAC team that traveled east from California. Down 6-2 at the time, CMS cut its deficit to one on two goals by Jenna Polidoro and one by Christina Kulick. A fourth-period score by Furano allowed the Bison to hold on for a 7-5 win.

Bucknell will look to maintain their early-season momentum next weekend at home as the host of their own invitational featuring many of the Bruno Classic participants, including Gannon, George Washington, Harvard, La Salle, Mercyhurst, Salem, St. Francis Brooklyn, Wagner—and a young Shark squad hungry for more wins.

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