IU never trailed Wagner University in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament play-in game. The Hoosiers defeated the Seahawks 11-6 in the Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center to punch No. 8 seed IU a ticket to Los Angeles, where they will play No. 1 Stanford Friday in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
“This is the quintessential, ‘We’ve got nothing to lose,’ kind of situation,” King said. “(Stanford) is incredibly talented and extremely well-coached, but I’d like to believe we’re pretty good ourselves. I’d imagine this will be the best 1-8 game in the history of the tournament.”
This year marks the third time in program history IU has advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The winner of the IU-Stanford matchup will move on to play the winner of Arizona State and California Saturday for a chance to advance to Sunday’s national championship game.
King said he had no firm expectations for his team in the tournament, which features six teams from California, a water polo-dominant state. Senior Shae Fournier echoed his sentiment, but said the win against Wagner and reaching the tournament has the Hoosiers eager to make some noise.
“It’s definitely great to know that we’re not done,” Fournier said. “This has been our goal all year and to see that realized just boosts our confidence a lot. We’re just ready to play and excited.”
IU set the tone against Wagner early in the match, controlling both the offensive and defensive sides of the pool and taking an early lead.
Junior Rebecca Gerrity scored on IU’s opening possession to put the Hoosiers up 1-0 quickly, while sophomore goalie Jessica Gaudreault kept the Seahawks off the board by making three of her nine saves in the opening four and a half minutes.
IU held a 6-4 lead heading into the halftime break, but as the third quarter got underway, the Hoosiers pulled away.
Only 30 seconds into the second half, Gerrity found herself unmanned in front of the net and was able to deflect a pass from senior attacker Meghan Lappan into the back of the net to extend the Hoosier lead to three.
Fournier, all-time program leader in goals scored, would make the score 8-4 a minute later, capitalizing on a penalty shot.
Penalty scores became a trend for Fournier who was a perfect 3-of-3 on five-meter penalty opportunities. While the Hoosier offense was taking advantage of the high percentage penalty opportunities, the Hoosier defense did not allow any goals via penalty or power play.
IU was able to hold defensively and clog up the front of the net while down a player throughout the match.
“That’s a dangerous part of the game and one that you have to try to find as many opportunities as possible, because they’re kind of a double-whammy play,” King said. “Those are going to happen when we’re kind of controlling the middle of the pool, and that’s what happened there.”
Wagner pulled back within three goals late in the third period, but that would be the closest the Seahawks would get to a comeback the rest of the match.
Gaudreault and the Hoosier defense held Wagner scoreless for the game’s final nine minutes and 48 seconds while the offense added a pair of goals in the closing period to finalize the 11-6 victory.
IU (23-5), the Collegiate Water Polo Association conference champion, heads to play Stanford (23-1) looking to build upon the team’s 12-game winning streak.
Fournier said the Hoosiers were playing at their best against Michigan last week and added there is still room for the Hoosiers to improve.
IU will have the week to practice and tighten areas up before heading to NCAA women’s water polo’s big dance. The Hoosiers will be playing for the program’s first NCAA National Championship title in school history.
“It sounds cliché to say that it’s such a great reward for all the hard work, because all the other teams worked hard, too,” King said. “But this is what they come to do and come to play for. It comes to fruition when they play well and earn their right to be in the tournament at this level.”
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IU lost to No. 2 Ohio State, 26-9.