Long Beach State (11-11, 3-2) heads into the Golden Coast Conference tournament Friday as the No. 3 seed out of five teams. Due to the tragic wildfires in Ventura county, No. 2 Pepperdine will no longer host, and Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center will serve as the venue for the tournament.
“We’re happy we get a chance to host. In our minds we were always up at Pepperdine so it’s also a change for us, it just all depends on how we handle it,” head coach Gavin Arroyo said.
The change in schedule means that the 49er seniors could potentially win a conference championship in the final home game of their career.
“It’s good that we’ve been playing at home the last few games, so maybe some of those home nerves are absolved,” Arroyo said.
With their seeding, both LBSU and Pepperdine receive automatic bids to the semifinals and play each other at 11 a.m. Saturday. The tournament begins Friday with a match between No. 4 UC Irvine and No. 5 San Jose State. The winner plays No. 1 Pacific in the second semi final Saturday.
“Right now we’re just focusing on Pepperdine,” Arroyo said.
LBSU is 0-1 against Pepperdine this season, but it was a close match. They lost 10-8 at home Oct. 5.
The game will hinge on the performance of sophomore goalkeeper Marwan Darwish, who has played well recently. His performance in the 49ers last match against UC Irvine was crucial to the 8-7 LBSU victory. However, Darwish allowed more goals than he had saves in the loss to Pepperdine.
“I’m pretty satisfied [with my play] generally, but I feel like there is definitely still more room for improvement that will give me a boost of confidence,” Darwish said.
The 49ers are 4-2 this year against the teams competing in the GCC tournament. Pepperdine is the only school in the bracket with a winning record against Long Beach State this season.
“Going against a team you’ve played previously is important just because it gives you a little bit of knowledge on who their shooters are, who is more laid back on shooting and all that,” Darwish said.
Early in the year, the 49ers offense was led by junior attacker Austin Stewart dominating the scoring stats. However, LBSU has been much more balanced in conference play. Senior attacker Max Cusator leads the team in conference goals with six. He is followed by three players who have five conference goals each.
One of those players is freshman utility Garret Zaan, who enters the tournament on an 11-game goal scoring streak.
Having recently developed offensive balance, the 49ers are systematically different than the team that lost to Pepperdine early in the year.
“We’re just trying to be assertive with our decision making, it’s easy to do when there’s no pressure or it’s practice but we’re just trying to be in a ‘go mode’ without overthinking,” Arroyo said.
If the 49ers can sink Pepperdine, they will play in the Championship match Sunday at 1 p.m. The winner of the tournament earns a spot in the National Collegiate Men’s Water Polo Championships.