Photo: Noelle Davis
PASADENA (Sept. 27, 2017) – Caltech Athletics made history once again on Wednesday evening as the men's water polo team took down visiting Occidental College, 11-10, to seize its first SCIAC victory since 2001, a point in time just two years after many of the 2017 Beavers were born.
That last victory? It too came against Occidental, a school that Caltech Head Coach Jon Bonafede is very familiar with having served six years with the Tigers as an assistant coach. Now in his third year with the Beavers, Bonafede's group made some noise when they won their first two games at the Citrus College Tournament earlier in September but with the first SCIAC win under his belt, Bonafede is starting to see a three-year process finally start to pay dividends.
"My team and my coaching staff really believed in everyone," Bonafede said. "However, this is why we play these games. It's four quarters - anything can happen. I'm just really proud that everyone executed our gameplan tonight. We had some bumps, we had some hiccups, but I'm really happy we were able to come together in the end as a team."
A consistent level of play for all four quarters proved vital to the Beavers' triumph. Sophomore goalkeeper Bradley Justice (El Cajon, Calif. / Grossmont) played perhaps his best game in the orange and white by coming up with seven key saves and two steals. The difference-making goal proved to be a successful penalty shot from freshman Rahul Arun (Buffalo Grove, Ill. / Adlai E Stevenson) at 5:17 in the fourth period after fellow freshman Steven Csaposs (Davis, Calif. / Davis) drew the exclusion. Perhaps pressure began to set in for the Beavers, as while they outscored Oxy in the first three periods, the Tigers came roaring back in the final three minutes of the fourth period with three goals to come within one goal with 25 seconds left to play.
Luckily for the Beavers, words of wisdom from their coach going into the fourth eventually sunk in and they ultimately held off a very game Occidental squad.
"I said, 'Congratulations on building a nice comfortable lead, but playing smart water polo is what is going to win this game,'" Bonafede said. "And I think we saw that. We played smart at the right time, we hustled at the right time, we had a little luck and it was a little closer than maybe it could have been. We still have some room for improvement, to be honest. I just wanted to make sure the guys knew that. Being up for three quarters is not a complete game.
"The support from the fans, student body and faculty of Caltech was the x-factor out here tonight."
After years of threatening to notch that elusive conference win, Caltech not only held their own early but maintained control for near the entirety of the game. After Oxy struck first with a Peter Blumberg goal, the Beavers countered with four unanswered goals, first from junior driver Eshan Govil (Redwood City, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep), then from Csaposs and freshmen John Wang (Louisville, Ky. / Phillips Exeter Academy) and Neil Sanderson (Laguna Beach, Calif. / Winchester), the latter of which led the Beavers with three goals. Another freshman, Alex Janosi (Ann Arbor, Mich. / Dexter), entered the game as Caltech's leading goal scorer but made his contribution in this game as a continued force on sprints with another 4-for-4 outing.
Though the Beavers used speed and precision to generate enough offense to win, Bonafede revealed after the game that a consistent defensive effort was the aim of his side entering the match. Csaposs and Janosi each added two steals in this regard while limiting Oxy to only a handful of open looks on goal.
"The gameplan was to play good individual defense," Bonafede said. "We have seen Oxy play a little bit but this was just our second SCIAC game so we were just concentrating on our gameplan. As the game of water polo goes, it is unpredictable with who you're going to be guarding at what time."
Bonafede's comments rang true in Pasadena on Wednesday night. The Tigers outshot the Beavers 23-20, while Caltech took nine exclusions to Oxy's seven and had six steals to Oxy's 14. However, the Beavers did one thing they have struggled to do against SCIAC teams in the past: execute. Through execution, accountability and tenacity, Caltech can breathe easy as they have ended a 16-year SCIAC drought.
Bonafede and the Beavers will travel to the University of La Verne on Saturday, Sept. 30 for an 11 a.m. match, one to which Bonafede and his team are already looking forward.
"We'll have a couple days of training while just enjoying this moment before getting back to some hard work tomorrow," Bonafede said. "On to the next one."