Down 7-0 in the third quarter, looking toward the end of a championship game is difficult. Breaking out with the first goal of the game and creating momentum to win could seem to be an almost impossible feat. But some teams refuse to go down without a fight. Marist Water Polo is one of them.
Before facing off against Wager in the MAAC Championship finals, the Red Foxes broke out to beat fourth seed Iona after a slower start. Tied 2-2 at the half, both teams saw an unusual scoreless second quarter. Marist broke out in the third quarter with three unanswered goals. After letting up a quick goal from Iona, the Red Foxes made a quick sprint to their offensive zone for junior center Grace Doerfler to put one in the back of the net with 4 seconds remaining in the third. Senior goalie Jessica Hermosillo proved once again to be a strong defensive force for Marist, finishing the game with 14 saves. As the clock counted down, Marist came out on top winning 7-4, advancing to the MAAC Championship game.
As the sun rose over the McCann Natatorium the next day, the pool was quiet, the scoreboard was empty, no sign telling of the chaos that would soon commence. Before the Red Foxes took on Iona, Wagner College had already beat Virginia Military Institute 16-3 in a blowout win. As the four-year reigning champions, Wagner is known for their speed and aggressive play.
As the pump-up music played and the starting lineups were announced, both teams made their way to their respective ends of the pool and waited. Once the whistle blew it was clear that the Championship game would not be an easy feat for the winner as the first and second seeds faced off. Wagner is the only team in the MAAC that Marist, lead by Coach Chris Vidale, had lost to this season.
The Seahawks opened up the scoring halfway into the first quarter and got another past Hermosillo in the first. Scoring three more in the second and putting another two in the back of the net early in the third, Wagner was up 7-0 with five minutes left in the third quarter. Up until this point in the game, the soundtrack of back-and-fourth whistles was all anyone could hear. The several offensive fouls, including a yellow card, as well as multiple turnovers, showed the determination of both teams in the championship game. Wagner’s dominance in the first 75 percent of the game was seen in the blocked shots and strong shooting—forces that were not as prevalent in the other MAAC teams Marist has faced.
Those dawned in red in the upper pool deck were nervous. Hands were clasped, calls were disputed, but hope was never lost. And almost like a movie, junior utility Katherine Tijerina sunk a penalty shot with three minutes left in the third, finally putting Marist on the board. Three more goals followed from Marist in the third including a power play goal from freshman attack Lauren Smith with one second remaining. Going into the final quarter Marist continued to push through.
“My bench really came through,” said Vidale. “They really started capitalizing on some man ups for us in our power play.”
Going into the fourth and final quarter Wagner answered a minute in. All-MAAC Marist senior defensive player of the year Diana Carballo responded with a goal of her own, completing her hat trick for the game. However, Wagner put two more goals on the board in the remaining four minutes. With a score of 10-5, the aggressive play did not cease. Penalties continued to be called with 13 power plays for Marist and nine for Wagner by the conclusion of the game. With back and forth battles and quick turnovers, hope for Marist was still alive. Tijerina got her second goal of the game before Wagner slowed down their play to ran down the clock. With 19 seconds left and down by four, Smith got the final word sinking one last power play goal. Smith’s efforts were not enough, as Marist fell to Wagner 10-7.
Falling short by three goals in the MAAC Championship is disappointing, but there is something to say about closing a seven-goal gap in a quarter and a half against such an aggressive team. Marist certainly gave the Seahawks the biggest challenge of the tournament and their conference play during the season.
“It takes time to get to that level and to find that energy, and once we can nail that down we’ll be alright, but it takes time,” said Vidale of moving forward. “Consistency is huge. Having the same athletes around, having the same coaching staff and everybody being on the same page. There’s always room for growth and that’s what we have to do.”
Although the Red Foxes’ season comes to close without a MAAC trophy, Marist has shown throughout the season they are a forced to be reckoned with in the MAAC and continue to make a name for themselves nationally.
“They do what they always do. They play with a lot of heart and resilience, and they didn’t give up.”