May 4, 2009

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

There were numerous auditions for the eight roles which comprise the grandest play on the American water polo stage.  However, after four grueling months, a cast has been selected.  Our challengers come from locales ranging from Poughkeepsie, N.Y. to Ann Arbor, Mich. to Los Angeles.  They will descend upon the University of Maryland to battle in what should be one of the most hotly contested NCAA Championships in recent memory.  With the proceedings set to start in under a week, we have broken down the eight contenders for the most coveted American amateur prize in women’s water polo.          
No. 1 USC

Field Players

“Kami is unusually strong.  I've guarded her and I can tell you she just has unbelievable strength and explosiveness.  Kami works hard, possesses toughness, big hands and is very powerful.”

That was how USC coach Jovan Vavic described MPSF Player of the Year Kami Craig when I interviewed him earlier this season.  The United States Olympian commands a constant double team in two-meter which frees up the dangerous outside shooters USC boasts on the perimeter in Michelle Stein, Joelle Bekhazi, Kally Lucas and Alexandra Kiss.  Watch Kristen Dronberger as well as she provides USC with a competent second option at two-meter. 

Goalie

Tumua Anae and Ilse van der Meijden are probably the best goalie rotation in the country. 

Coaches and Intangibles

Vavic is one of the game’s best and he will be trying to capture both the men’s and women’s championship in the same school year for a third time. 

No. 2 Stanford

Field Players

Freshman two-meter Melissa Seidemann won MPSF Newcomer of the Year and was the Cardinal’s leading scorer. Seidemann, Lauren Silver and Kelly Eaton key the Stanford offense while 2008 United States Olympian Jessica Steffens dominates the other end at her two-meter defense position.

Goalie

Amber Oland is crucial to Stanford’s chances.  Oland is a great passer and serves as the triggerman for Stanford’s counterattacking style of play. 

Coaches and Intangibles

John Tanner and Stanford will try to turn each game into a swim meet if they get the opportunity.  The Cardinal have won one NCAA Championship and four MPSF crowns under Coach Tanner’s tutelage.

No. 3 UCLA

Field Players

UCLA has the firepower to bring home a fifth straight NCAA title as they boast four players who had over 40 goals in Tanya Gandy, Katie Rulon, Anne Belden and Priscilla Orozco. 

Goalie

Brittany Fullen is worthy of first-team All-American consideration as she played in every big game for the Bruins and was rock solid in posting 197 saves.

Coaches and Intangibles

This is Adam Krikorian’s last rodeo as head coach of the UCLA women as he is moving on to coach the United States National team when this weekend concludes.  Krikorian’s run with the UCLA women has been incredible as he boasts an overall record of 263-38 with seven national titles.  Those seven include the last four.  Do not sleep on UCLA as it would not be a surprise if the Bruins make this weekend their best of the season.

No. 4 Hawaii

Field Players

Kelly Mason might be the best outside shooter in the country and can dominate a game.  Leonie Van Der Molen is a dangerous scorer and a nice complement to Mason.  The Rainbow Wahine have exceptional scoring depth as they boast five other players with 20 or more goals in Lisa Van Raalte, Monika Eggens, Carmen Eggens, Dagmar Genee and Saara Majuri.

Goalie

Canadian Junior National team player Serena Bredin was strong all season with 193 saves.

Coaches and Intangibles

Coach Michel Roy has turned Hawaii into a national power with two prior NCAA Final Four finishes. 

No. 9 Loyola Marymount

Field Players

WWPA Player of the Year Nicole Hughes might be the best individual scorer in the entire tournament.  Hughes netted 107 goals this season and is somebody who needs to be doubled.  The key for LMU in this tournament will be for the people around Hughes to step up when they get open shot opportunities.

Goalie

Eliana Arellano had a solid campaign as she posted 220 saves over 31 games.

Coaches and Intangibles

John Loughran is a master at getting his teams to peak at the right time.  Loyola Marymount will be a lively underdog against Hawaii.  The Lions and Rainbow Wahine played March 23 with Hawaii winning 8-7 on a late goal from Majuri.

No. 11 Michigan  

Field Players

“Julie is a competitor.  She is the type of person that judges her success by whether or not the team wins.  If the team loses, Julie will think she did not play well even if she was outstanding.  Julie wants the responsibility of winning on her shoulders.”

Those were the words that Coach Matt Anderson used to describe Julie Hyrne when we spoke earlier this season.  Expect the senior to show up big.  Leah Robertson is an All-American candidate and is the other star in the Michigan lineup.  Keep an eye on sophomore Alison Mantel and freshman Meaghan Cobb as they are both lethal scorers.

Goalie

All-Conference performer Brittany May is very strong in the cage as evidenced by a 5.57 goals against average and 212 saves. 

Coaches and Intangibles

Anderson became the second coach in the history of the Michigan program when he assumed the duties in September of 2002.  In that short period of time, he has transformed this program into being a perennial power.  The Wolverines have been disrespected this entire season in the polls and that should be a motivator in this tournament. 

Marist

Field Players

Marist is led by Katelin McCahill, Angie Rampton and Samantha Swartz.  Earlier in the season when I spoke with Coach Ashleigh Jacobs she said the following about Katelin McCahill:  “Her nickname is the "Junkyard Dog" coined by her remarkable ability to scrap and make something out of nothing.”  This tenacity enabled McCahill to be named first-team All-MAAC and MAAC Tournament Most Outstanding Player.  Rampton and Swartz joined McCahill as first-team All-MAAC selections.  

Goalie

Junior college transfer Jessica Getchius was MAAC co-Defensive Player of the Year and a first-team All-MAAC performer. 

Coaches and Intangibles

In her second season as a coach, Jacobs is a rising star as she has led Marist to two consecutive dances.  Marist is facing Stanford in the first round for the second straight season and kept last season’s first round contest respectable for the opening half. 

California Lutheran

Field Players

Two-meter player Joy Cyprian is the all-time leading scorer in Regal history and scored five goals in the SCIAC Championship win over Pomona-Pitzer.  Fellow juniors Ashley Bentz and Meredith Butte are also capable scorers.

Goalie

Sophomore Rachel Hahn was solid in the SCIAC Tournament with eight saves against Pomona-Pitzer and seven saves against Redlands.

Coaches and Intangibles

Craig Rond has been the head coach at Cal Lutheran for six years and led them to a Division III national title in 2007.  Their four most important players will all be back next season so this tournament should provide a nice foundation for success next spring.