Water polo heads to Golden Coast Conference tournament with everything clicking

San+Diego+State+water+polo+senior+driver+Karli+Canale+prepares+to+shoot+during+the+Aztecs%E2%80%99+16-9+win+over+Cal+Baptist+on+April+17%2C+2021+at+the+SDSU+Aquaplex.

Alexa Oslowski

San Diego State water polo senior driver Karli Canale prepares to shoot during the Aztecs’ 16-9 win over Cal Baptist on April 17, 2021 at the SDSU Aquaplex.

by Breven Honda, Senior Staff Writer

Getting hot at the end of the season with the postseason right around the corner is something every coach desires. 

For No. 14 San Diego State water polo, that could not have been scripted any better. 

SDSU capped off its regular season by winning its final five conference matches, including its final four matches to share a three-way tie for the Golden Coast Conference regular-season championship. 

It was the Scarlet and Black’s fifth GCC title all-time.

In addition, the conference announced on Monday senior utility Emily Bennett received first-team All-GCC honors, senior driver Karli Canale received second-team honors and junior driver Spencer Samuel received an honorable mention. 

Also, freshman utility Laurene Padilla received All-Freshman first-team honors and freshman center Faith Cerussi took All-Freshman second-team honors. 

To top it off, junior goalkeeper Raquel de Pinho was named GCC Newcomer of the Year. 

Now, the Aztecs will take their talent to the four-team conference championship tournament as the No. 2 seed. 

In years past, every team would get the invite to the conference tournament, but due to COVID-19, the number of teams had to be reduced.

Head coach Carin Crawford said playing in this year’s tournament will be unlike any other and will heighten the stakes to hoist the championship trophy. 

“It’s unusual to not have all the teams there and not have three days of games when most seasons were guaranteed three games unless we got that first-round bye a couple of years back,” Crawford said. “It really does raise the level of intensity, just knowing that you lose and you’re done, like most NCAA championship formats. So, I think that is a strong motivator.

The Aztecs (7-13, 6-1 GCC) will face No. 3 University of the Pacific (9-5, 6-1 GCC) in the first semifinal match on April 23 at 12 noon inside the home pool of the Pacific Tigers in Stockton, Calif. 

On the other side of the bracket, No. 1 Fresno State (10-5, 6-1 GCC) will face No. 4 California Baptist (5-10, 3-4 GCC) following the Aztecs and Tigers at 3 p.m. 

The winners of both semifinal matches will square the next day at 12 p.m. to decide the 2021 GCC Championship. 

SDSU’s lone loss in conference play came against the Tigers in their home pool on March 13. 

Crawford said they are looking to get satisfaction for themselves and not for Pacific beating the Scarlet and Black a month ago. 

“I think we all look at that game as one that we weren’t too happy with our performance,” Crawford said. “I think it is more trying to vindicate ourselves more than getting revenge. We missed three out of four penalties in the game, for example. 

“We had a lot of good scoring opportunities that we didn’t finish and then we gave up too many goals from their center players. Those are things that we train and practice and go through all of the preparation of not to do.” 

Despite the loss to Pacific, if there was one thing that has worked for the Aztecs this season, it was their competition the entire season. 

In all 20 matches for SDSU, each of its opponents was ranked, including the Aztecs. 

Crawford said playing ranked competition helped the team for GCC and postseason play. 

“We embraced that challenge and I think this year more than ever our schedule was hard,” Crawford said. “With the doubleheaders and the first game going to overtime and we had less than an hour break before going at it again with another game against a ranked opponent, that is unprecedented. That will never happen again. 

“It is purely because of COVID. We embraced that challenge and we felt like playing teams that are big, strong, fast brings out the best in us. It makes us play the way we need to play to be able to beat anyone.” 

Canale, a team captain who scored two goals in the 16-9 win over California Baptist last Saturday, said scheduling gave the team the opportunity to find themselves and grow against other top teams from around the country. 

“I think that this has definitely been one of our toughest schedules this year and I honestly really enjoyed having all the competition because I really think it has prepared us for our conference and being able to play at a very high level,” Canale said. “I think it was a good thing that we had the opportunity to play very good ranked teams because it helped us figure out what team we are and put us in the best shape to play in conference this season.”

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