After a rough start to the season, the Azusa Pacific water polo team prepares to enter Golden Coast Conference (GCC) league play, and turn adversity into motivation for their final stretch.

Currently sitting at 10-8, the Cougars are already having a better season compared to last year, as the team has battled through many close games. Before the 2017 season, the Cougars’ last overtime game was in 2014. The team has already played in three overtime games this year, with eight games still remaining this season.

Head coach Julie Snodgrass is proud of how her team has performed this year, despite going through some adversity.

“We’ve had a pretty strong start, not just physically, but coming together as a team,” Snodgrass said. “We’re in the middle of some adversity right now – we have some key players out with injuries. We are shorthanded but still determined and fighting on. I think we’re in a good place in the season and are doing well for where we are. We’re playing well as a team and together, despite the adversities that we faced, and are facing right now.”

The team lost starters Mar Pastor and Ashley Taylor in early March due to injury. Both players are expected to be back in the pool soon, but their missing presence has been noticed. These injuries have forced the Cougars’ to adjust their game plan, both offensively and defensively over the past few weeks. Entering the Claremont Convergence tournament on March 3, was the first time the Cougars were without both Pastor and Taylor.

“That was our first setback, playing without two starters. We’re still adjusting to that, and those injuries are going to last a little longer, so we’re looking for the best way to play without those instrumental pieces,” Snodgrass said. “It was a challenge these past few weeks, but we were able to come and fight.”

However, some players such as junior attacker Britt Harris, believe that the injuries may have been a blessing in disguise for the team.

“We’re getting better. In the long run, I think the injuries may have helped us, because we’re learning how to play without key players,” Harris said. “When they get back in, and we’re still playing like we did without them, it’s going to be great to see.”

In place of the injuries, the team has a deep, yet very young rotation. Freshman Sarah Adams and sophomore Carinna Prince have stepped into the gap, learning new positions, and contributing to the team as much as possible. Of the 15 players on the roster, 10 happen to be either freshman or sophomores.

Cougars attacker Megan Myers is one of only two seniors on the team, and she is proud of how this young group has worked together through injuries so far this season.

“Compared to last season, this team has become very close with each other, and we have a lot of depth. When injuries happen, we can rely on our bench to step up, and we’ve seen that in some of our games,” Myers said. “As a team, we’ve taken a few hits with injuries. We’re working on filling in the gap for players who are injured. We’re willing to fill in new roles and strengthen each other that way.”

This situation for the Cougars has now turned into motivation. With a little more momentum on their side, the team is on a mission to prove any skeptics wrong and finish the season on a strong note.

“When you look at the players that are out, it’s our top offensive player and our top defensive player, so people are thinking that we’re weak when we’re not,” Harris said. “We just want to come out and show that we can all still fight and come out on top… We may not have it fully figured out, but we’re definitely way better than we were before.”

More then ever, the chemistry between the players on the team is at an all-time high, and injuries are no longer holding them back. The Cougars just finished the Lancer Invitational, their last invitational of the season, where the team went 4-0, winning every game in a single invitational for the first time this season.

The Cougars will play their first GCC game at Concordia on March 24, as they will be looking to put up a fight heading into conference play.