Sophomore Claire Pierce (12) scored 10 goals in the sweep, including the game winner against Harvard.
Battling hard rain and wind, the Cal State East Bay water polo team knocked off a pair of Division I foes on Friday (March 18) at Pioneer Pool. The Pioneers (14-7) topped George Washington, 18-9, before going toe-to-toe with Harvard before pulling away for a hard-fought 12-8 victory in game two.
The games marked the first two of seven in the next nine days for Cal State East Bay, which will travel to Hawaii for Spring Break to take on Hawaii, UC San Diego, San Diego State and a pair of Under-21 national teams in Honolulu next weekend.
The Pioneers used an eight-goal first quarter to build early momentum in game one against the Colonials, allowing just one goal in the first half. Whitney Bell got the scoring started just under a minute into the match, followed by three straight from Claire Pierce, who scored four in the opening quarter. Fellow Aussie Sarah Grunberger did her part as well, putting away back-to-back goals just 38 seconds apart to put East Bay up 6-0 with 3:21 to play in the opening period. Liz Warren's first goal of the day gave the Pioneers a 7-0 advantage and Pierce capped the early scoring streak with her fourth to help East Bay outscore GWU, 8-0 in the first. Junior goalie Jayme Pekarske helped out by making four saves in the first period and finished the game allowing just one goal.
After Grunberger and Ariel Noriega made it 10-0 Pioneers, the Colonials finally broke through for their first goal of the game with just 43 seconds remaining before the half. Pierce responded for East Bay with three seconds left to send the Pioneers into the break leading 11-1. Pekarske made another six stops in the second quarter to bring her first half total to 10.
With a 10-goal lead under its belt, Cal State East Bay brought on backup goalie Kendra Mason for the third quarter. Though Mason and the Pioneer defense allowed five goals in the third, George Washington never got closer to East Bay than seven. After Allison Littlejohn opened the second half with a goal, the two teams traded scores, with the Pioneers getting third-quarter goals from Pierce and Warren to maintain a 14-6 lead with 53 seconds left in the penultimate period. Pekarske returned with 37 ticks left on the clock and made one save during a Pioneer exclusion before Tristan Kennedy-Donohue capped the third quarter with a goal with 12 seconds reamaining to send East Bay into the fourth with a 15-6 lead.
George Washington added three goals in the final period, but were matched by the Pioneers, who got a pair of goals from Carly Clark and Warren's third of the game to hold on and pick up the 18-9 victory. Pierce led East Bay with seven goals in the game, while Grunberger and Warren added three apiece. Pekarske, Mason and freshman Olivia Roberts combined to make 13 saves in the win. Rachael Bentley's three third-period goals paced the Colonials.
Game two was a much tighter and physical affair as both the Pioneers and Crimson are among the teams receiving votes in this week's Collegiate Water Polo Association Top-20 poll. In a low-scoring first quarter, neither team drew an exclusion and both scored a pair of goals. Grunberger started the scoring off at the five-minute mark to put East Bay up 1-0, but the lead didn't last long, as Devan Kennifer put away Harvard's first score just 17 seconds later. Monica Zdrojewski made it two in a row for the Crimson, giving Harvard its first lead of the game with 2:57 left in the first. A minute later, however, Grunberger was back at it again, beating Harvard goalie Laurel McCarthy to tie the game at two at the first break. Pekarske needed five saves in the first frame to keep the game in a deadlock.
Cal State East Bay took a 3-2 advantage early in the second period after Clark's spin-shot from inside, but Zdrojewski took advantage of a player advantage with 6:22 left to play in the half to tie the game 3-3 and start a three-goal scoring streak for the Crimson. After taking a 5-3 lead on another player-advantage goal with 3:12 remaining, Harvard gave up a pair of their own when Warren converted on a power-play chance and Pierce her first of the game to pull the Pioneers even at five goals each. The Pierce goal was the first of three from the two teams in a 42 second span to end the period, as Harvard answered with a goal from Shayna Price at the 22-second mark to regain the lead before Warren ended the half with a goal to send the teams to the break locked in a 6-6 tie.
The Pioneers came out of the break re-energized and drew a penalty just a minute into the third period. Grunberger converted on the penalty shot, burying a laser of a shot in the back of the cage to put East Bay up 7-6. A power play goal from Pierce just over a minute later gave the Pioneers their first two-goal advantage of the game, 8-6. Though the Crimson pulled back within one twice in the period with goals from Aisha Price and Jamie Williams, the Pioneers would never trail again, getting a second player-advantage goal from Pierce and another score from inside for Clark to take a 10-8 lead into the fourth.
The Cal State East Bay defense took over in the final frame, holding the Crimson scoreless with help from Pekarske's three fourth-quarter saves. Grunberger scored a pair over the final eight minutes, her fourth and fifth of the game, to seal the second victory over a Division I opponent of the day.
Pekarske finished game two with 12 saves to bring her total on the day to 23, while allowing just nine goals in just under 49 minutes of work. Pierce paced the Pioneers with 10 goals on the day, while Grunberger added eight goals, including five in game two, and several assists. Warren and Clark found success inside for East Bay, putting away five and four goals, respectively. Bell, Kennedy-Donohue and Noriega rounded out the scorers for CSUEB on the day with a goal apiece. Noriega's lone goal was the game winner in the morning, while Pierce posted the eventual clincher in game two.
Cal State East Bay now heads to Honolulu for five games next week. The Pioneers will open the weekend against the Australian and Canadian Under-21 national teams March 24, before meeting No. 5 Hawaii and No. 11 San Diego State March 25 and rounding out the trip against WWPA opponent UC San Diego on March 26.