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CAMPUS REPORT | UC IRVINE / CHRIS FOSTER

Anteaters Hope to Make Big Splash in the Big Tournament

November 24, 1998|CHRIS FOSTER

For a water polo team, there is only one thing more difficult than winning the NCAA championship--winning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title.

It's why MPSF coaches and players tend to snicker a bit this time of year.

This weekend the conference holds its tournament at Newport Harbor High. The eight teams in it are also the top eight teams in the nation--UC Santa Barbara, the ninth-ranked team, couldn't even qualify for it. The winner joins three other teams in the NCAA tournament, Dec. 4 and 6 at Corona del Mar High, to determine the national champion.

Confusing? Yes. A tad redundant? Absolutely.

"It's much more difficult to win our conference," Irvine Coach Ted Newland said. "You've got to play three hard games. It's all one big mishmash where we're beating the brains out of each other."

UMass, the Collegiate Water Polo Assn. champion, and UC San Diego, the Western Water Polo Assn. champion, might not want to hear that, but fact is fact. The national champion has been a MPSF team since the conference was formed in 1992.

Since the NCAA changed to a Final Four format in 1995--with the MPSF, CWPA and WWPA winners and an at-large team--the MPSF has always had two teams in the four-team tournament. The at-large berth is selected, according to NCAA rules, "without geographical restriction."

True, there is no regional limitations. It could be a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation team from Southern California or it could be a Mountain Pacific Sports Federation team from Northern California.

It makes getting the at-large berth a nifty consolation prize. Of course, it's not so special for the conference champion, which has the task of beating the same team twice to win the conference and national title. The last three NCAA champions--California, UCLA and Pepperdine--did not win the conference tournament.

"This year, it's even tougher," USC Coach John Williams said. "The conference is more balanced than I have ever seen it. There is no easy first-round game.

"We're hoping to run the table."

UCI, among others, might have a say about that. The Anteaters are seeded second in the MPSF tournament. They finished tied with UCLA and Stanford, but won the tiebreaker because of a better point differential in head-to-head games.

The only MPSF team the Anteaters haven't beaten this year is USC, not that they haven't come close. The Trojans beat them twice, once in overtime and the other time by one goal.

"They snuck past us twice," Irvine goalie Genai Kerr said. "We should have won both those games. They are the only team to get away from us."

Before getting to that rematch, the Anteaters first must deal with Pacific, then will probably get UCLA in the semifinals. UCI lost two of three to the Bruins this season.

Still, the Anteaters are a force, especially with Ryan Bailey in the middle. Bailey, a 6-foot-5, 250-pound senior, is also a member of the U.S. national team.

"The problem everyone has dealing with our team is they have to deal with Ryan, like it or not," Newland said. "If you leave Ryan alone, play him one-on-one, he's going to score eight goals a game. If you try to double him up. It's hard to get a counterattack. There's a great advantage to having a giant two-meter man."

*

Gabe Cagwin, Irvine's freshman guard, spent part of the night chasing David Lalazarian around in the Anteater men's basketball opener against Pepperdine. Lalazarian is 6 feet 7 and Cagwin is generously listed at 5-10.

"We thought his quickness would cause some problems for Lalazarian," Coach Pat Douglass said.

It did. Lalazarian got off only one shot in the three minutes that Cagwin harassed him.

It's looking more and more like freshmen Cagwin, Jerry Green and Zamiro Bennem will be the main guards the Anteaters use this season, although sophomore Jason Flowers may figure in the mix.

*

The UCI women's basketball team, walloped by San Diego, 62-39, in its season opener, improved significantly Saturday, even though it lost to Syracuse, 58-57. The Anteaters came from 12 points down in the last eight minutes and had a one-point lead in the last minute.

Big reasons for the improvement were guards Princess Hatcher and Jeanine Horton. Hatcher, filling in for the suspended Megan Stafford, had a career-high eight assists and only one turnover.

Horton scored 14 points, showing offensive skills she didn't need to use at Howard Junior College in Big Spring, Texas. Howard had five players go to Division I schools last season, including Shawnta Johnson, the leading scorer at Stephen F. Austin this season.

"Jeanine is a superb defensive player, but she was never asked to score last year," UCI Coach Mark Adams said. "We saw that she the ability to do that."

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