The Long Beach State men’s water polo team suffered a 14-9 loss to UC San Diego Nov. 29 that booted it out of the team’s first NCAA tournament appearance since 1991.
The 49ers battled hard in the first half, but couldn’t complete the upset down the stretch, ending their seven-game win streak.
“We weren’t able to do what we usually do, which is why they took a big lead,” redshirt junior attacker Austin Stewart said via LBSU Athletics. “I’m expecting to go further next year, we’re getting a lot of good recruits and they have a lot of experience playing in their countries.”
Despite the loss, it was the best overall season for the team in years, with head coach Gavin Arroyo winning the Golden Coast Conference Coach of the Year award, but how will the team add on to this next season?
Six key players will be returning including freshman utility Garrett Zaan, who showed the most improvement near the end of the season, Stewart who led the team in goals with 56 and sophomore goalie Marwan Darwish who was the GCC tournament Most Valuable Player.
Long Beach (14-12, 3-2 GCC) suffered losses early on against higher ranked teams, so in order for it to make it further into the NCAA tournament it will have to learn how to close big games. Through September and October, the 49ers lost 10 out of 11 games, hurting the team’s national seed. Part of the team’s struggles came with the inability to get the ball to the middle. The 49ers took many shots from far outside because of how undersized their centers junior Johnathan Wong and freshman Theodoros Pateros are 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-1 respectively. The aggressiveness from outside would tire out the attackers, not giving them enough time to get back and defend. The upside of many key returners is that the team can improve on what was established this year. Now that the postseason jitters are over with, expect the 49ers to make a return to the NCAA tournament with stronger play next season.