Water's Getting Warm
Jan. 27, 2009
By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com
UCLA, USC and Stanford. Those are the three answers that any fan of women’s water polo will recite when the question of who will win this season’s NCAA Championship is posed.
However, lurking in San Diego is a veteran team that has made the past two NCAA tournaments and is fielding their best team yet. The Aztecs of San Diego State return five starters including two All-Americans in Jenna Schuster and Anna Gonzales from a squad that went 31-7 last spring and finished fifth place at NCAAs.
The Aztecs are coached by former United States National Team player Carin Crawford. Crawford is entering her 11th season at the helm of San Diego State. In her tenure, Crawford has guided the Aztecs to a national ranking of 11 or better in each campaign. I got a chance to sit down and discuss the San Diego State program with her.
San Diego State has made the past two NCAAs and has established itself as a top program. Your team has five starters coming back and looks poised to make an even bigger splash this season. What does your squad have to do to take that next step and beat a UCLA, USC or Stanford?
Certainly our goal is to continue to improve and be a top three team. We have not advanced into the top eight at the UC Irvine Invitational the past two seasons. This season we would like to win the UCSD Invitational and then win our first game at the UC Irvine Invitational so we can see one of those three teams in a neutral pool. I think we just need to get over the psychological hurdle. We have established that we can beat the teams we are supposed to beat. Now we need to beat a top three team.
You have been the Aztecs head coach since 1999. What was the hardest part in making this a perennial winner?
I have been blessed to live in San Diego and have the opportunity to recruit to a great university in a great location. We were able to overcome the first nine years when we did not have a pool because we had great athletes and a great culture of hard work. We laid a foundation in the early years. It helped that our athletes have passed along this culture of working hard. We take inspiration from baseball Hall of Famer and San Diego State coach Tony Gwynn when he talks to us about being consistent and hitting singles for 10 years straight. Success feeds itself. Expectations begin to perpetuate in a culture of hard work and excellence.
Can you tell us a little bit about Jenna Schuster and what makes her the great player that she is?
She is so fun to coach. Jenna is very competitive, works extremely hard and is very, very talented. She has a great burst of speed. Not wall to wall speed, but "water polo" speed. Jenna is great in transition and is a great inside player. She has excellent hands and can do whatever she wants with the ball. Jenna is also a true driver who wants to attack. She is the best player I have ever coached.
Can you tell us about your other All-American Anna Gonzales and what makes her the special player that she is?
Anna is the perfect complement to Jenna. She is a tremendous outside shooter. Teams like to collapse on Jenna which frees up Anna. Anna has great tenacity and competitiveness and is also a great two-meter defender. She also continues to try and improve herself and has really been working on her inside game.
I noted that the only position on the team that might be unsettled is in the cage as you graduated Heather Fenske. Who will be in the net for the Aztecs this fall?
Our goalie situation is still not settled. We have three goalies competing for the starting job right now. One of them is our senior, Katie Bentley. She received some NCAA tournament experience against Pomona-Pitzer last season and is looking great. She is competing with two freshmen. The first is Kelly Campoli from El Toro. Kelly had the most saves in the history of the El Toro program which is one of the best in Southern California. Our other goalie is Katie Avetoom. She backed up Amber Oland (Stanford goalie and MPSF Newcomer of the Year as a freshman) for three years at Foothill which is another great program, before having an excellent senior season. I am not concerned about goalie as I feel we will be solid there.
Are there any other freshman that could surprise?
We are expecting contributions from three freshmen. The first is Leanne Ford. She can also defend two-meters and is coming from a club program in CHAWP that just won gold at the United States Water Polo National Junior Olympics (18 and Under). Local product Alana Burgess will also be counted on to contribute. If you recognize her last name it is because her father is Coronado High School coach Randy Burgess. Coronado has produced many Olympians on the men's side. Alana is a really smart player and has a maturity beyond her years. Meaghan Poland is also from the CHAWP program and will be counted on to provide some minutes this spring.
I noted that you signed a big class during this recent signing period. Can you tell us a little bit about them?
I am really excited about this class. Our NCAA success and new pool are paying off. We signed three players from the CHAWP program. Alex Ford is Leanne's cousin and is a very smart player. Amber Pezzola is a very dynamic and creative player. Courtney Muller is also a CHAWP player and was on Riverside Poly HS which I believe won a CIF Championship. They have a lot of experience from winning backgrounds and play well together. Rachel Muller is a local player from Carlsbad HS and is a very intelligent player. We signed Emily Whalen who is a lefty from the Sacramento area. She plays for American River which is a strong club team. Samantha Voigt comes to us from Fresno. We hope to keep recruiting quality players like her from the Valley. Rounding out our class is Kim Lewis from the SET (Saddleback El Toro) water polo club which is coached by former Olympian Brad Schumacher. Kim was the leading scorer in Orange County last season and will be an impact performer.
There were two major tournaments that happened on the opening weekend of women’s play as the Michigan Kickoff and Lancer Invitational were both contested. Both preseason affairs boasted tasty matchups. The Michigan Kickoff in particular was very interesting as our first upset of the year occurred on day two when the host Michigan Wolverines were able to knock off seventh-ranked San Jose State. The Kickoff also showed that perhaps the pollsters were a little hasty in not ranking UCLA first in the country as the four-time defending NCAA Champions rolled through the competition this weekend.
The field in Ann Arbor was strong as third-ranked UCLA, fifth-ranked California, seventh-ranked San Jose State, eighth-ranked Arizona State, 10th-ranked Michigan and 14th-ranked Cal State Northridge were among the teams competing over the two days. The most impressive team in the field was the Bruins of UCLA as they defeated Bucknell, Indiana and Michigan by a combined score of 37-7. Michigan was the only team truly competitive with UCLA as the Wolverines held a 2-1 first quarter lead over UCLA, before the Bruins erupted for five unanswered goals spread out over the second and third periods. The final score of that contest was 10-4. Britanny Fullen led the way with 12 saves.
California was also impressive in Ann Arbor as they went 3-0 on the weekend. The Golden Bears defeated Michigan 8-6 in their opening game. California was ahead 8-2 at the end of three periods before taking their foot off the gas pedal in the fourth. This was a somewhat surprising result as many observers felt Michigan would give California a four-quarter battle. California then defeated Indiana 12-3 and 14th-ranked Cal State Northridge 9-5. Freshman Emily Csikos was very impressive on the weekend as she led California in scoring in both the Michigan and Cal State Northridge contests.
The other undefeated team on the weekend in Michigan was the eighth-ranked Sun Devils of Arizona State. Arizona State won their season opener 20-5 over Colorado State behind four goals each from Addison McGrath and New Zealand newcomer Lynlee Smith. Smith will be somebody that has to be watched all season as she is a member of the New Zealand Senior National Team. In their second game, Arizona State survived Cal State Northridge on a Bonnie Miles goal with a little over a minute remaining. Addison McGrath scored five goals in the 10-9 Sun Devil victory. Arizona State’s final result of the weekend came on Sunday with a 15-7 win over Bucknell. Addison McGrath once again led the Sun Devils in scoring with four tallies.
The most notable result in Ann Arbor was the Michigan upset over seventh-ranked San Jose State. The 10-ranked Wolverines led the entire game in posting an impressive 8-6 victory. Carrie Frost and Leah Robertson each had two goals for Michigan while Julie Hyrne had one goal and four assists. Michigan played the toughest slate of the weekend as they saw three top ten teams in UCLA, California and San Jose State. Michigan has to be content with garnering at least one win out of those three games. The Wolverines ended up 2-2 on the weekend as they played Colorado State in addition to those three top 10 teams and won 12-0. While 14-ranked Cal State Northridge went 1-1 on the weekend, their excellent goalie play has to be noted. Jillian Stapf was electric in their 11-10 loss to San Jose State as she blocked 19 shots in defeat.
The Lancer Invitational had one matchup that was worth the price of admission as 17th-ranked UCSB and 18th-ranked Cal State Bakersfield faced off. As mentioned in last week’s season preview, both of these teams have the potential to be national sleepers. Cal State Bakersfield jumped out to early leads of 3-0 and 5-1 before UCSB got into gear and sliced the halftime deficit to 7-4. However, the Roadrunners were able to keep the Gauchos at armslength the entire second half and scored an impressive 13-9 victory. The trio of Veronica Campbell, Amanda Ortiz and Petra Koudelkova led the way for Cal State Bakersfield as Ortiz and Koudelkova combined for seven goals while Campbell blocked 10 shots. Cal State Bakersfield ended the weekend with an undefeated mark as they beat Azusa Pacific 21-4 in their other game at the Lancer Invitational. UCSB was able to shake off their loss to Bakersfield and win their next two games at the Invitational as they defeated Cal State San Bernardino and Concordia (CA.) by a combined score of 30-9. Lizzie Rouleau was the most impressive Gaucho of the weekend as she scored eight times in their three contests. UCSB’s goalie situation is one to watch as they started Chelsea Carrillo in the game against Cal State Bakersfield and Kate Murphy in the two games against Cal State Bernardino and Concordia (CA.).