San Luis Obispo, CA – Heading into the 2016 Western State Conference Championships the Citrus College Men's Water Polo team had a right to be optimistic about their chances for their first conference title since 2002. The Owls finished the dual part of the season in a three-way tie for first place, and the Owls were one of the favorites. In the semi-finals Citrus avenged their lone conference loss over Ventura College, but in the Championship Game they faced a familiar foe. Instead of celebrating their first title in a decade and a half, the Owls were left empty handed once again thanks to Los Angeles Valley College.
The Owls couldn't have scripted a better start to their tournament, as they opened with a 17-11 victory over Ventura College. Citrus scored the first four goals of the game and never really looked back. The closest the Pirates get would be to within two three minutes into the second quarter, but the Owls got back-to-back scores by freshman Panagiotis Giannoulias and sophomore Vincent Edwards, both off assists from sophomore James Cano, to pull back in front by four on their way to the win.
Freshman Jonathan Wong and sophomore Kristopher Williams would each score a game high five goals in the win. Cano added a game high six goals, while Wong had three steals and four exclusions drawn. Sophomore goalie Drake Santos was solid, stopping 10 of the 17 shots he faced.
In the Championship Game, Citrus seemingly kept momentum going in their favor, taking a 5-3 lead after the first quarter. Valley would tie the game up in the second half, holding the Owls scoreless and making it five all headed into halftime. Citrus would briefly retake the lead to open the third on a goal by Giannoulias, but the Monarchs scored the next two to take the lead 7-6, only to have Wong knot the game back up at 7-7 after a 6-on-5 goal.
LA Valley would answer a few possessions later, kick-starting a 4-0 run that ended with the Owls down 11-7 with just over four minutes to play in the game. Wong would score two late goals, but Citrus just ran out of time as they fell 9-11. Wong would finish with a game high five goals in the loss. Santos would add eight saves.
With the win and the loss, Citrus moves to 17-11 on the season and 4-2 in WSC play, finishing second place for the third straight year. The Owls will likely still qualify for the 2016 SoCal Regionals, but won't find out their placement until late on Sunday.