LMU water polo breaks toward the goal against Long Beach State on Thursday, Nov. 14. The Lions lost the game, but are now gearing up for WWPA tournament play.

This week, the members of LMU’s men’s water polo team are gearing up for their team’s appearance in the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) Conference Championship tournament. The competition will take place this weekend at California Baptist University in Riverside, California.

The Lions’ appearance in the tournament marks the end of their regular season. It has been a season of up and downs, close wins and close losses. The team began their journey back in September, ranked No. 14 in the nation. However, to an outside observer, the program did not start off like one that was so highly rated.

The Lions dropped five of their first six matches over the course of two tournaments, which featured some of the other nation’s best water polo programs. All five of these losses came to teams ranked in the country’s top 10.

Redshirt junior defender Alexandros Athymaritis commented on this start, stating, “We started slow this season, but as we progressed, we played better and better. So, I think now we have reached that point going into conference [championships] that we know what everyone’s role is and we’re ready to perform and do our best.”

Despite the losses, LMU maintained their high national ranking of 14 at the time due to the quality of opponents they were facing.

The Lions’ luck turned around on Sept. 25 with their first win against a ranked opponent. Facing off against No. 11-ranked WWPA rivals UC San Diego away from home, LMU was able to pull off a close 17-16 victory.

With their season in full swing, LMU faced off against a variety of other ranked opponents — culminating in a mixed bag of results. The program secured victories against No. 14 Princeton and No. 10 UC Irvine, but fell to No. 4 University of the Pacific and No. 9 UC Davis.

Commenting on the mix of wins and losses his team has been through this season, junior utility Joseph Shaw said, “I feel like we’ve been more together in losses this year in comparison to last. We’re definitely more motivated to win.”

In mid-October, the team entered a streak of good form which made up for its early-season lapse. From Oct. 19 through their regular season’s concluding game this past Thursday, the Lions won six of the nine games they played.

This streak included wins over No. 19 Cal Baptist University and No. 15 Bucknell University. LMU’s season concluded with an enthralling 21-20 overtime loss to Long Beach State — nearly besting the No. 8 Beach.

Looking back at the season, redshirt sophomore attacker Daniel Roth commented, “I think we’ve grown a lot — actually tremendously. We’ve improved in all aspects of the game, we’ve had some guys step up. Overall, we’ve improved drastically and our team chemistry has only gotten better.”

With the regular season in the books, the Lions now look forward to their conference championships. Entering as the competition’s No. 3 seed, the program has high hopes of winning the tournament and returning from Riverside as champions.

Two major obstacles stand in the way of this goal:  conference rivals UC Davis and UC San Diego. The Lions split their two regular season games against UCSD, but lost both matches against Davis.

Roth made it clear that in order to overcome such quality opponents this weekend. The team must tighten up in the back and rely on their defense to allow in fewer goals from the opposition.

When asked how LMU can overcome the two seeds above them, Roth answered, “Basically defense, our offense has always been very good. We’ve been able to score more than 15 goals on some of the more competitive teams we’ve played against. Defense is the only thing lacking that allows them to catch up to us.”

LMU kicks off WWPA Championship play this Friday at 4:30 p.m. against Santa Clara at Cal Baptist University.

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