Last spring, women’s water polo, like many other programs at LMU and across the country, had their season abruptly canceled in the middle of their schedule. Nearly a year has gone by since that week last March that shut down the athletic world. Eleven months later, the Lions are back in the pool preparing for their first game since the COVID-19 shutdown.
“In March we were all pretty shocked,” remarked senior AIMS major and driver Alena Sanchez. She continued, “[The Season] got canceled right before our conference play. Everyone got sent home, we all were separated throughout the summer. We didn’t come back until September of this year and [practice] was pretty light. It was more just for us to be together.”
The Lions played 18 games in 2020 before COVID-19 derailed their season. They had a solid record of 12-6, boasting a five-game winning streak before the pandemic took hold. The women had beat several ranked opponents along the way including Long Beach State, UC Davis and San Diego State.
Looking ahead to this season, the Lions will begin as the #12 team in the nation. The program will test this ranking against several competitive opponents over the course of their schedule. The Golden Coast Conference (GCC) features numerous ranked teams this year, in which Fresno State is ranked just ahead of the Lions at #11. The University of the Pacific will also head into the season ranked, earning themselves the appraisal of #18. California Baptist rounds out the bunch coming in at #24.
In addition to this challenging schedule, the Lions will also have to overcome the hurdle of a depleted squad. As a result of COVID-19, the team's international players have been separated. According to Sanchez, the team is missing eight players in total which represents a significant loss to a team that must now compete with a roster of twelve.
“It’s been pretty different. It’s hard to get game practice in, hard to scrimmage," Sanchez admitted that a smaller roster has made the logistics of preparing for the season difficult. “We have to really just work on one side of the pool. It’s hard to do a whole team thing with offense and defense. We’re all getting along, but we miss our other teammates.”
When the season begins, it will be up to this squad of twelve to defend the Lions’ position as the country’s twelfth best water polo team. Sanchez agreed that it will be difficult for the team to reach the level of intensity it is normally accustomed to; with a smaller team, reaching competition-level sharpness has remained a challenge.
Sanchez continued on the subject, “We’re a little nervous not only because we don’t have our whole team, but we haven’t been really intensive since March. January, I’d say, is when we really started getting pretty intensive.”
However, this season represents more than just a shot at beating rivals or winning a conference title. For this team, a return to competition represents a return to the normalcy that was pulled out from under them one year ago. As Sanchez puts it, she is excited just to get back in the water and play alongside her teammates.
“I just can’t wait to play other people. Like I said, we really haven’t had much of any real water polo since March, given we can’t even scrimmage within our own team. I’m really excited to just play other teams, get back into it and have some fun with my teammates that are here.”