The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

A week ago, College of San Mateo women’s water polo coach Randy Wright was chomping at the bit for another shot at Merced College.

The Bulldogs, who have never beaten Merced, took on the Blue Devils at the West Valley tournament and fell 10-7 after playing a promising first half of water polo. Wright followed that loss by saying that the gap between his young Bulldogs and Merced wasn’t too large to overcome and come the following week at the Cabrillo tourney, CSM might have what it takes to finally beat Merced.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, it wasn’t meant to be. Four games in two days produced a 2-2 record that includes another loss to Merced, 9-5. In that game, CSM played tough in quarters one and two, but wore down given their furious pace of play.

“Four games in two days just isn’t the fit right now for our squad,” Wright said. “We don’t have a deep bench and we’re more of a tempo, accelerator type of team. [But there’s] no real harm in the losses we had. In the long run, it’ll get us if there’s a tiebreaker.”

The preseason schedule is done for the Bulldogs. In nine games, they earned a 5-4 record. Now, all the attention moves to Laney College on Friday for the Coast Conference opener.

“Here we go,” Wright said. “It’s go time now. Hopefully the games we’ve had, the education we’ve had and the repetition in the pool will come out to success. We’ve made some adjustments. We’ve added to our body of work and we’re going to have a few different looks that I would have loved to have done, but at the same time, I didn’t do it because I didn’t want them (CSM’s opponents) to know.”

On paper, Laney poses a small threat to CSM. Wright said his Bulldogs won’t overlook their conference foe, but realistically, that Merced itch is still there. And Game 2 on the conference schedule provides CSM with yet another shot at their rival.

“Our preparation right now is a week from Wednesday,” Wright said. “It’s not that they’re (Merced) doing anything creative, or anything that’s great, they’re just taking advantage of our missed opportunities. So, if we’re on a counter, and miss a 2-on-1, now they have numbers the other way and they’re putting the ball in the cage.  So credit to them and their keeper for stopping that and giving them the opportunity based on our missed chances.”

Missed opportunities, of the crystal clear variety no less, have been a theme for the young Bulldogs in 2012. When relaying mental recaps of the his team’s games, Wright often points out a handful of chances that CSM has let slip. Those, more often than not, have resulted in goals for the other team.

“I think the bottom line with this team is: you have to put the ball in the back of the net if you want to succeed,” Wright said. “There was a definite improvement [this weekend]. The turnovers have come down. The way we’ve executed our offense is definitely an improvement. In the end, it’s got to go in. We get a lot of open looks and when you get those open looks, you have to be hungry.”

CSM has a couple of proven weapons in Erica Staben and Miya Oto. Jasmine Zaldivar scored four goals in a 10-4 win over West Valley last Friday. Staben, the former Menlo-Atherton Bear, currently leads the team in scoring. And even without her, CSM proved they can win a match. In their 6-4 victory over Cuesta College, Staben fouled out. But CSM’s defense stepped up and held on to the win.

The Bulldogs have had to learn a ton on the fly and come their match against Merced, they’ll have to put it all into play if they’re going to win. Wright didn’t short-change the magnitude of this early-season matchup — a loss puts the Bulldogs behind the 8-ball in the tough Coast Conference.

“When we enter the conference schedule, it’s important to get wins,” Wright said. “[Against Merced,] we’re going to have to mix things up. Merced is a good team and to keep them off-balanced, I think we do have, looking and analyzing what we have on defense against them, we’re coming together in terms of which one works best. I think the defense that we turn out will be something completely different than what we’ve done just based on the statistics of their team and their tendencies, what their strengths are.

“The fact that they haven’t seen everything we have to show is important because you never know what kind of zone to expect from CSM. Or are they going to run a press? And it makes things tough for opponents.”