Nathan Benge (left) takes aim to put Saddleback up against Santa Ana College. (Courtesy of John Mourer)
The Saddleback College Men’s water polo team placed fourth in the Orange Empire Conference at the OEC Water polo Championships at Cypress College on Saturday, Nov. 4. The team ended the tournament with a 1-2 record, finishing their regular season with a record of 21-9. The Gauchos placed ninth in the Southern California region, sending them into the postseason at the Socal Regional Tournament starting Thursday, Nov. 9.
Head coach Jason Lynch said despite the team’s performance at the OEC Championships, the team had qualified for the tournament due to the number of matches won against non-conference teams.
“Despite our fourth place finish in conference we still managed to get the ninth place seed in the Socal Regional tournament based on our 21-9 record and wins against non conference opponents,” Lynch said. “This is the first time since 2008 that Saddleback has qualified for the Socal championship tournament.”
The Gauchos faced off with Santa Ana College, defeating the Dons 27-4. In the semi-final round, Orange Coast College defeated the Gauchos in a close match with a score of 10-7. Saddleback finished the tournament against Riverside Community College, who the Gauchos had previously beat 13-7 earlier in the season. The Tigers took down Saddleback 13-8, placing the Gauchos in fourth.
Sophomore Keeon Jabbour said the Gauchos came out strong with their win against Santa Ana, but fell short in their last games due to attitude. They had not played well against OCC in the regular season, giving the Gauchos a bad taste after their loss. He said going into the Socal Regionals, the team is going to need to improve their attitude.
“I feel like the thing that broke us is that at some point in the game, we started playing defeated,” Jabbour said. “It’s almost like we got into our own minds and couldn’t put shots away.”
Jabbour scored six goals throughout the tournament, one goal made while being drowned by three other opposing players. During the OCC match, Jabbour even broke his tooth while defending the rowdy Pirates. He has been playing water polo since he was 12-years-old, playing both years while at Saddleback. He plans on transferring to a in-state college to study business but does not plan on continuing his water polo career. As the Socal Regionals may be his last tournament, Jabbour said he is ready to compete.
“If this is my last season, I want to leave on a high note which is why I am really looking forward to beating Riverside in the tournament,” Jabbour said.
Sophomore driver Max Gronter finished the regular season with 92 goals, the third highest scorer in the California Community College Athletics Association. Gronter scored 10 goals at the OEC tournament, but despite his high stats, his focus isn’t on scoring.
“I’m not really focused on scoring, it just kind of happens through the style of play our team has adopted,” Gronter said. “Myself and my teammate Joshua Mourer just end up taking the most shots so I am lucky enough to be able to shoot the ball.”
Gronter hopes to transfer to University of California, San Diego to study political science, possibly going on to study law or joining the military. Going into the Gaucho’s rematch against Riverside in the Socal Regionals, the team is excited to redeem themselves according to Gronter.
“They are the first team we are playing so we are excited to get another shot at beating Riverside,” Gronter said. “We have to re-evaluate what we are doing because obviously it didn’t work against RCC the last time we played them.”
The Gauchos are set to face off with Riverside City College Thursday, Nov. 9. The time and location has not been confirmed.