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RecSports: Water polo squad starts slowly

Special to The Observer | Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Notre Dame began its season by dropping three of four matches, as the Irish fell to the Ohio Squirrels, Michigan State and Michigan, and beat Virginia.

In the first game of the weekend, the Irish found themselves up against a Squirrels team composed of former Dayton and Ohio players. The Squirrels scored a quick goal in the first quarter, but the Irish were able to even up the game on a man-up goal by senior captain Matt Fordonski. A back-and-forth affair, aided by two goals by freshman Geno Freeman, resulted in a 6-4 Ohio lead at halftime.

The Squirrels came out strong in the third quarter, tallying five goals and utilizing a counter-attack offense. The Irish were able to net two more opportunities, a five-meter shot by sophomore Jon Hancher and a late man-up goal by junior Drew Wroblewski, resulting in the final score of 14-6.

The Irish, looking to rebound from their disappointing performance in the first game, matched up against Michigan State, the top seed in the tournament. Notre Dame allowed the Spartans to score 12 seconds into the game. Junior captain Dan Geisman found the equalizer a minute later, but Michigan State quickly responded with two more goals to end the quarter.

The Spartans started the second quarter hot as well, running off two more goals before Geisman stopped the bleeding to make the score 5-2. Michigan State would put in one more before half.

At the start of the third, Freeman came up with a big stop in goal, blanking a Spartan on an open look. It wasn’t enough, however, as the Spartans would run off three straight goals. Fordonski would score a lob to end the third quarter, 9-3.

During the fourth, Irish again struggled in their transition defense, allowing two goals before sophomore Jon Hancher scored on a man-advantage off a cross-cage pass. The final score of 11-4 was disappointing, but the Irish felt they had played a much better game then their first.

Geisman started off the third match for the Irish with a powerful skip shot to the upper right corner for a goal and 1-0 lead. Fordonski managed to score another goal to quickly add to the Irish lead. Virginia struggled to produce offensively because of Notre Dame’s solid defense, highlighted by the goalkeeping efforts of sophomore Tate Kernell. Viriginia could only produce one goal in the first half during a 5-on-6 opportunity. Sebastian Testero made easy work of the Virginia’s defense and scored from hole set easily, and Geisman put yet another goal on the board to finish out the half with the Irish in the lead, 4-1.

Virginia put up a fight in the third quarter, scoring three goals on Freeman, who made an incredible save against a Virginia player on an one-on-one at point blank range. Geisman, Fordonski and Testero all scored a goal in the third to keep the Irish up 7-4.

The Irish powered ahead in the fourth with two long shots from Testero. Kernell made two great stops to keep Virginia from creating any kind of offensive momentum. Virginia finally managed to get one more goal in the fourth quarter on a counter-attack opportunity, but Fordonski finished the scoring with a cross-cage skip shot from six meters out that found its way past the goalkeeper’s reach.

The final game of the weekend started out slowly, as both Notre Dame and Michigan committed multiple turnovers. Sloppy play by both teams resulted in a 1-1 tie after Testero scored a lob shot toward the end of the first quarter.

The Irish were able to take the lead early in the second quarter on a goal by Freeman. Michigan netted a goal shortly after and the two teams played to a 2-2 tie at half time.

Two goals by Michigan in the third quarter gave them a 4-2 lead until the Irish were able to stop the bleeding with a goal of their own. Down by one heading into the fourth quarter, the Irish felt like they had the momentum to take control of the game, but three quick goals on counter attack opportunities gave Michigan a 7-3 lead. The Irish continued to fight back behind Hancher, who provided two goals to his team’s effort, but the push was not enough.

While the results were not as expected for the Irish, several positives were taken from the weekend.

“This is a good starting place for our season,” Fordonski said. “We have a lot of potential and it is still early. Look for us to make a serious push for the conference title in October.”

Kernell shared the same sentiments.

“Hard work, both mentally and physically, is going to be our focus going forward,” he said. “We’ll see a different team start to develop in the upcoming weeks and look forward to displaying it at Michigan State on Sept. 18 and 19.”