May 10, 2010

 

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com


It begins on Friday.  The preseason laps, the offseason weightlifting, the continued six on five repetitions, the big games, the conference tournaments, all of that action and all of that work is for this moment.  There is one tournament that matters more than any other in American water polo and that tournament is NCAAs.  Eight teams will arrive.  One will be crowned champion.  We have broken down these eight squads and have dissected all four first-round matchups.  Below is our look at the country’s premier women’s water polo event.

Third-ranked Stanford versus Pomona-Pitzer
 
Field Players
 
Stanford arrives at the tournament with a deep, balanced attack.  John Tanner commented on that balance in my April 26th NCAA.com interview as he said, “I like to think, that we can win by outplaying teams in every phase of the game.  We score out of two-meters, we score from the outside, we score on the counter and we score on the six on five.  We do not give away any facets of the game where goals can be generated.  I think we have ten or more goals in all but a couple of games.  On defense, we have shutdown defenders like Jessica Steffens that can take away the other team's top players.”  Steffens was a United States Olympian in 2008 and is the most disruptive defensive player in the country.  Two-meter Melissa Seidemann led the team in scoring and she gets great outside support from Kelly Eaton.  Freshman Annika Dries is a budding superstar for the Cardinal.  
 
Tamara Perea, Sarah Woods and Perri Hopkins give Pomona-Pitzer three utility players that can all find the back of the net. Karen Bonner does a nice job for the Sagehens in two-meter.
 
Goalie
 
Amber Oland is a former All-American and MPSF Newcomer of the Year.  Her finest moment came against USC on April 24th when she notched thirteen saves in a crucial 7-6 victory.  For Pomona-Pitzer, freshman Sarah Tuggy was tremendous in the SCIAC Championship game as she had twelve saves in the 12-11 win over Occidental.
 
Intangibles
 
Stanford enters NCAAs after a disappointing third place MPSF Tournament finish.  They still received the top seed and a favorable path to the NCAA Championship game as both USC and UCLA are on the other side of the bracket.  Meanwhile, the Sagehens are taking a huge step up from their SCIAC Tournament victory.  That being said, Pomona-Pitzer is playing their best water polo and arrives at the NCAA Tournament with momentum.  
 
Fourth-ranked California versus sixth-ranked Michigan
 
Field Players
 
This game boasts two superstar field players on opposite sides as Cal’s Emily Csikos and Michigan’s Leah Robertson are both elite.  Csikos earned first-team All MPSF honors after scoring sixty-six goals on the season.  She is a tremendous outside shooter and will have to be marked at all times.  Cal has great balance as she is supported on offense by fellow All-MPSF standouts Camille Hewko and Stephanie Schnugg.  Meghan Corso and Dana Ochsner are also dangerous.  

Leah Robertson has battled injuries all season but the CWPA Western Division Player of the Year looked healthy and dominant in Michigan’s title win over Indiana.  Robertson is an incredible defensive presence with an underrated offensive arsenal.  Do not be surprised to see her try to swim mismatches into two-meter.  Alison Mantel can be explosive offensively while Lauren Orth and Meaghan Cobb can  both find the back of the net with Orth doing her damage from the outside and Cobb from the inside.
 
Goalie

Stephanie Peckham is a returning All-American and was an All-MPSF performer this season.  She will have the edge in experience over Michigan’s freshman keeper Alex Adamson.  Adamson comes from the legendary Coronado water polo program in San Diego and earned first-team All-CWPA Western Division honors with her brilliant performance this season.
 
Intangibles
 
This is California’s first ever trip to the most prestigious women’s water polo event in America.  Meanwhile, this is Michigan’s third straight appearance in water polo’s version of the Big Dance.  It will be interesting to see if this gap in tournament experience manifests itself in any way.  
 
First-ranked UCLA versus seventh-ranked Loyola Marymount
 
Field Players

The Bruins boast a deep attack and a defense that was on fire last week at the MPSF Tournament.  Priscilla Orozco was a first-team All-MPSF pick and she does a little bit of everything for UCLA.  Grace Reynolds has been coming on down the stretch out of her two-meter position.  KK Clark and Kelly Easterday are also capable of doing damage.

Loyola Marymount quietly has an outstanding offensive attack and that is led by WWPA Player of the Year Anne Scott and second-team All-WWPA selection Casey Flacks.  First-team All-WWPA pick Diana Romero is an outstanding two-meter defender and her matchup on Grace Reynolds will be compelling.
 
Goalie

This is the best goalie matchup of the tournament.  UCLA’s Caitlin Dement enters NCAA’s on a roll as she was incredible at the MPSF Tournament.  Meanwhile, Kristine Cato was outstanding in her first year with the Lions after transferring from USC.  She ranked fourth nationally in saves and was rewarded for that effort with a first-team All-WWPA selection.
 
Intangibles
 
When UCLA walks onto the pool deck they command the respect that comes with being the five-time defending NCAA Champions.  One has to wonder if their victories over Stanford and USC for the MPSF Tournament title have led to the Bruins taking up occupancy in the minds of players on both of those squads.  Both coaches are in their first season, however Brandon Brooks at UCLA and Kyle Witt at Loyola Marymount have kept up each program’s tradition of success.  
First-ranked USC versus twentieth-ranked Marist
 
Field Players
 
USC feels like the most complete squad.  Their offense is led by 2008 United States Olympian and first-team All-MPSF performer Kami Craig.  Craig has the ability to dominate the game from her two-meter position.  MPSF Newcomer of the Year Patricia Jansco and All-MPSF performer Joelle Bekhazi provide ample support as they are both outstanding outside shooters.  All-MPSF selection Forel Davies is incredibly fast and has improved her scoring output.

The Marist attack is led by All-MAAC selections Rachel Sunday, Samantha Swartz, Angie Rampton and Kristen Barnett.  Swartz is somebody to watch as she is an outstanding two-way player as evidenced by her fifty-four goals and thirty-nine steals on the campaign.  
 
Goalie
 
Lost in the shuffle from UCLA’s stirring 5-4 victory over USC in last year’s NCAA Championship game was the exceptional performance that Tumua Anae submitted.  Anae shut UCLA out in the second half and finished the game with eleven saves.  Expect the MPSF Player of the Year to once again be great this weekend.  For Marist, Jessica Getchius played every minute of every game and earned second-team All-MAAC honors in the process.
 
Intangibles
 
Jovan Vavic is coming off an NCAA Championship on the men’s side and is looking to win the men’s and women’s NCAA Championship in the same school year for a third time.  On the flip side, Ashleigh Jacobs quietly has Marist arriving at NCAAs for a third straight season.