Tournament jitters, tight defense finals pieces to women’s water polo puzzle going into MAAC season

Matthew Chaves, Sports Editor

The Iona College women’s water polo team proved their own against top teams at the 2020 Wolverine Invitational on Feb. 29 and Mar. 1.

The Gaels took on two top-ranked teams in No. 23 Bucknell and No. 10 Michigan, as well as unranked colleges Santa Clara and Saint Francis University. Iona won only against Saint Francis, 10-6, but put up tough fights against Bucknell and Michigan, some of the best teams in the nation.

Defense was off in the beginning of the tournament but came together by the end against Michigan and Santa Clara, according to head coach Brian Kelly. The team’s power play was also lacking, missing plenty of opportunities to get ahead.

Early tournament jitters almost led the team to a loss again against fellow Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference team Villanova at the Courtney Fisher Invite. Iona had trouble in defense against the Wildcats throughout the game, but answered with accurate offense to outscore them 14-12.

The match against St. Francis Brooklyn was a different story. The Gaels kept the Terriers to only four goals in their 12-4 victory. Defense finally clicked in the second game of the day.

Iona’s slow start up to get their game going in their side of the pool is a problem the Gaels haven’t been able to solve this season. Lack of communication in the pool seems to be the reason for these slow start ups, according to Kelly.

“It’s very similar to basketball in how you defend,” Kelly said. “If you’re not communicating verbally, you’re going to get killed. In our worst games, we talk the least.”

Water polo moves fast. It goes back and forth in the pool and the players have to get to their positions quick. Water in the ears of the players and shouting through splashes can be problems when trying to make a play, but it’s a hurdle the team has to get over to become a championship-winning team.

The problem is identified, but the solution needs to be implemented more consistently. Communication amongst the players when they’re in the pool needs to be loud, clear and concise. Most importantly though, it needs to be done in every game.

“Good teams will make a mistake and then they won’t do it again,” Kelly said. “We have a tendency to make a mistake and bring it into the next weekend, make it again early and then improve upon it through the weekend. We’ve got to eliminate it from weekend to weekend.”

The Gaels have the talent to go head to head against nationally ranked teams and give them a run for their money. The individual skill in the team is there, but working together to make the team a proper unit needs to be improved.

Defense works best when the players are working as a unit. Kelly believes that once communication is consistent, defense will fix up and the Gaels will have a team that’s solid from the front of the pool to the back of the pool.

If the defense plays as good as the goaltending, the team is set for a MAAC championship. Redshirt-senior Jordin Hale is the team’s starting goaltender, sporting a .442 save percentage. Substitute goaltender and freshman Zoe Metzger is doing wonderfully as well in her first season in college water polo with a .464 save percentage with just under 40 minutes played.

“We have the goalie that can win a MAAC championship, we have the goaltending that can win us a MAAC championship,” Kelly said. “I want to make sure that our team defense is up to par with our goaltending, and good things are going to be on the horizon for us.”