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In an “all or nothing” tournament, Oregon men’s club water polo team falls short of nationals

A year ago, the Oregon men’s club water polo team fell just shy of taking a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah for the national tournament. The Ducks lost 12-11 to Oregon State in regulation.

This past weekend, the Ducks traveled to Osborn Aquatic Center in Corvallis for the Northwest Regional tournament after finishing the season 6-2. Its opening opponent of the tournament was the same team that cut Oregon’s season short one year ago, the Beavers.

“It was an all or nothing game,” Colton Saunders, a senior and captain of the Oregon men’s club water polo team said. “That was the hardest game we had to play to advance [to nationals].”

For club teams at the University of Washington, Washington State, Oregon State and Oregon, a single loss in the tournament cost the price of a ticket to Santa Cruz, California to play at  for the national title.

The Ducks entered as the No. 2 seed in the tournament, while the Beavers ranked No. 3 of the four teams. The Huskies ranked No. 1 and took care of the Cougars in their opening game, awaiting the winner of the Oregon schools.

Down by three, the Ducks scored three goals in the final three minutes to tie OSU at 14 before the end of regulation. The teams then played two three minute periods in overtime, but both teams tallied just a single goal and needed double overtime to decide a victor.

“It was back and forth all game,” Saunders said. “Constant battling.”

In double OT, golden goal – or sudden death – rules apply. Within a minute, Oregon State scored. The Ducks season ended right then and right there.

“It wasn’t the way we wanted to go out,” Saunders said, adding that his water polo career is likely now over. “It wasn’t the way I wanted to go out.”

The Beavers went on to beat the Huskies in the regional final, stamping their ticket to California.

The Ducks season, Saunders says, should have been more successful. The team had two incoming goalies entering the season – one with Division I experience. Neither panned out.

They then used Russell Blockhus, a field player, in the net. Blockhus had to miss time with an injury sustained a week earlier, so Randy Kenyon, another field player, volunteered to play in goal.

Overall, this season “was about overcoming the adversity of losing players throughout the season, and unforunately we couldn’t over come that adversity.”

The team, according to the team’s captain, struggled in “game knowledge, size, skill level and depth” compared to previous years.

Though Oregon finished third in the Northwest region, he says “this team gave 110-percent this season” and is “incredibly proud to have played with these guys.”

Now, Saunders and three other players depart the team with graduation – nearly half of the starting seven.

“I think next year will be a challenge, but the cool thing about seniors leaving means it gives the young guys the opportunity to step up ,” Saunders said. “It could turn out to be a very successful year for Ducks.”

“We will just have to wait and see.”

Contact Andrew on Twitter @AndrewBantly

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Andrew Bantly

Andrew Bantly

Andrew is a sports reporter contributing to Oregon football and baseball. The Bay Area-native hit his first (and only) official home run at age 12. You may have recently seen him on pink crutches.