Entering Saturday night's championship game against Golden West College, Long Beach City water polo Coach Monte Nitzkowski was worried about defense. He believed he had a right to be worried; after all, the Rustlers had beaten his team in each of their last two meetings--losses Nitzkowski blamed on the Vikings "lethargic" defense.
Thus, Nitzkowski's game plan was simple: He wanted a solid defensive effort. And he got what he wanted as Long Beach held Golden West scoreless in the first quarter and went on to post a 10-4 victory in the Southern California Community College Water Polo Regionals at Belmont Plaza.
"Our defense won us the game," Nitzkowski said. "They have a great offense, but we controlled the ball well tonight, and we didn't have any defensive lapses."
Long Beach's Bryan Boyer scored three goals, while Pat McIlrath and Scott Leonard added two each.
The teams will meet again next week in the state finals at Merced College, with Long Beach leading the season series, 3-2.
Golden West Coach Ken Hamdorf thought Long Beach was fired up for the game.
"We came out really flat tonight," Hamdorf said. "Psychologically, it was a must win for Long Beach because we had beaten them two in a row, and if they hadn't won tonight, we would have the edge going into next week. They played excellent defense, and we were tentative."
The Vikings held a 4-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, a 5-1 advantage after two quarters, but Golden West rallied to cut the lead to 6-3 early in the fourth. However, Long Beach scored quickly on goals by McIlrath, Boyer and Victor Flynn to put the match out of reach.
Long Beach goalie Yennick Laffiche frustrated Golden West's powerful offense by making several difficult saves in the first half. He finished with 16, and Golden West goalie Michael Armstrong had 9.
"We just played very aggressive tonight, and we seemed to have more team spirit," Laffiche said.