March 2, 2009

 

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

With the calendar flipping to March, the women’s water polo season is beginning to heat up. This weekend saw a top-five team get dealt a losing hand while the nation’s top three began to create some separation between themselves and everyone else. Out East, a school with just 1,480 students took out the Wolverines of Ann Arbor and established itself as the East’s team to beat.   

There were many teams that will look back on this past weekend and smile. However, none deserve to smile as much as the Anteaters of UC-Irvine do. UC-Irvine entered the national top 10 last Wednesday and could possibly slide into the national top five this Wednesday after an electric weekend. All the Anteaters did was travel down to San Diego and knock off 18th-ranked UC San Diego and fifth-ranked San Diego State on consecutive days and establish themselves as a possible NCAA at-large contender.

The 14-13 double-overtime win was particularly impressive, as the Anteaters needed a last-minute goal from Kat Plummer to send it into overtime, and then came back from two separate deficits in OT to send it into the second extra frame. Then, with 31 seconds left in the double-OT, a Cortney Collyer goal secured the win for Irvine.

Prior to the Anteaters’ successful journey, I sat down with their Head Coach Dan Klatt. In his four seasons with the Anteaters, Klatt has established himself as a rising star in the coaching ranks.  The UC-Irvine graduate had a distinguished playing career as he was a two-time All-American for the Anteaters and was also a member of the 2004 United States Olympic team. Below is my interview with the coach prior to his team’s outstanding weekend.    

Many water polo observers felt that UC Davis was the team to beat in the Big West and your team defeated them by four goals at the UCI Invitational.  What does your team have to do to keep this momentum going and win the inaugural season of the Big West conference?

All of the teams in the Big West have similar talent so I don't believe that any team has the edge over another. We will all have seen each other play several times by the time the conference season begins in April.  Therefore there will be no scouting advantage. All of our games leading up to April are preparation for the conference season, and most of us have a similar strength of schedule. No team has an advantage in that department either. Basically, it will come down to execution. If we can learn to execute with consistency and play well in the fourth quarter we will be successful. Us beating UC Davis in an 8 AM game, also the third of the weekend has little to do with what will happen at the end of April.

Down the road, what do you think becoming a member of the Big West will mean for UC-Irvine?

Being a part of the Big West is important for several reasons. First, it links us to the other sports in our school. We are now a part of our schools member conference and can help the school establish ourselves as the top in our conference. Secondly, because we have instantly become the second rated conference in the country, we should receive an automatic bid in our third year as a conference. Third, our athletes now have a tangible conference title to compete for. Previously, it was tough to compete against football schools with far more resources than UCI. It's much harder to motivate your athletes when your goal is to compete for fourth or fifth in the conference. Finally, it will help with recruiting.  Potential student athletes will have more interest in UCI and the other Big West schools because they know there is a real possibility of competing in the NCAA tournament.
 
Can you tell me a little bit about Julia Fancher and what makes her the great player that she is?

Julia has excellent fundamentals. She has great control and awareness of her body. She likes to do everything perfectly. Her fundamental abilities mixed with her size and length give her the ability to play every position in the pool. Julia is also very mature. She does what is necessary to win. She doesn't need to score to have a huge impact on a game. She can pass and defend as well as anyone out there.

Gianna Rossi is another strong player for your squad.  What makes her the outstanding player that she is?

Gianna has great strength and an excellent arm action so she is an inside/outside threat. She is a very explosive player inside four meters and a precise shooter from the perimeter. It is difficult to defend someone with a wide range of offensive skills. She is also an excellent one on one defender. She knows what great position is, and when she combines great position with her strength she is difficult to match up with.

Kat Plummer is also a standout for your team.  What makes her so effective?

Kat has developed a lot over the past twelve months. Her experience was extremely limited coming into college. She is a strong outside shooter and holds great position at 2M. She has good speed, and she is capable of playing all six positions on extra man. She doesn't always make the right decisions, but she is not afraid of anyone and will take on any player that is matched up with her.

Can you tell us a little bit about the class you just signed in the most recent signing period?

The players we signed for the 2009-10 school year have a wide range of skills. There are some well developed players as well as some projects with great potential. We were able to sign position players including centers, drivers, defenders, and goalies. This was important because we are losing a very strong senior class. This class will get a great deal of experience during the 2010 season.
-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This week’s marquee contest pitted third-ranked UCLA traveling to the desert and taking on sixth-ranked Arizona State. On paper, this game seemed to be a potential landmine for the Bruins, as the Sun Devils are always dangerous at home. However, Saturday’s contest reaffirmed UCLA’s status as one of the best three teams in the nation.

UCLA took control of a tie game midway through the second quarter by putting two goals on the board, then outscored the Sun Devils 4-2 in the third period, giving the Bruins an 8-4 cushion. And, after UCLA held the Sun Devils at bay in the fourth quarter, the game ended at 10-5. Tanya Gandy scored three goals while Anne Belden and Priscilla Orozco each chipped in two.

Top-ranked Stanford and second-ranked USC were both on trap game alert this weekend.  Stanford’s opponent was an eighth-ranked San Jose State team that had already knocked off three top-10 squads this season.

Stanford would not be the fourth, as the Cardinal raced out to a 7-1 lead and held off several spirited Spartan rallies to win 16-8. Eight Stanford players found the scoreboard with Kelly Eaton, Alex Koran and Melissa Seidemann each posting hat tricks. USC was also in the Bay Area, facing off with seventh-ranked California. The game was close for the first half as USC only held a 7-4 halftime lead. However, the Trojans slammed the door shut in the second half as they outscored the Golden Bears 7-0 to win 14-4. Eight different Trojans scored with United States Olympian Kami Craig leading the way with three goals. 2008 First-team All-American goalie Tumua Anae stopped eleven shots for the Women of Troy.

Marist played host to ECACs and the tournament boasted a number of close games with the Championship contest finishing as one for the ages.

The tournament’s first day yielded a minor upset as sixth-seeded Wagner took down third-seeded Iona 13-9 and established themselves as the biggest challenger to Marist in the MAAC. However, Wagner’s Cinderella run to the championship at ECACs would not get past the semifinals as second-seeded Brown defeated the Seahawks 9-6 behind three goals from Sarah Glick. In the Championship game, Brown faced off with host and top-seeded Marist. The Red Foxes made their way into that tilt by knocking off Mercyhurst and George Washington.

But Marist will look back on ECACs with a little regret, as the Red Foxes were six seconds away from bringing home title. Down 8-7, junior Sarah Glick did not waste a power play opportunity for the Bears as she found the back of the net with five ticks left on the clock. Two overtime goals handed Brown their biggest victory of the season. Brown goalie Stephanie Laing was voted the tournament’s Most Outstanding player.  

The Elite Six was held at Bucknell University and it involved fourteenth-ranked Michigan, fifteenth-ranked Hartwick, twentieth-ranked Maryland, Princeton, Harvard and Bucknell. The story of the weekend was the little school from Oneonta, New York, as Hartwick swept their four games.

Their win over Michigan was the most significant of the weekend, establishing Hartwick as the team to beat in the East. Further, Michigan ended Hartwick’s season in 2008 so it had to be sweet to get this measure of revenge. The final score was 9-7 as Hartwick shut out Michigan in the fourth quarter while putting two on the board to score the key victory. Hartwick followed that win up with wins over Princeton, Maryland and Bucknell. Hartwick superstar Kirsten Hudson vaulted past former Hartwick player and star Australian Olympian Bronwyn Knox into second place on Hartwick’s scoring list in this Invitational. Barring injury, Hudson will almost certainly accumulate the goals needed to move into first on the school’s scoring list by the end of this season. The junior from New Zealand is an incredible scorer who should challenge for a spot on one of the top two All-American strings at the end of the season.

Slugfest took place at UC-Santa Cruz and while there were a number of West Coast teams fighting it out, it was a school from the Midwest that stole the show.  Nineteenth-ranked Indiana defeated the host Banana Slugs, Cal State Monterey Bay, Pacific and Santa Clara.  The win over UC Santa Cruz and Pacific were by one goal each.  The UC Santa Cruz contest was marked by an outstanding individual effort as goalie Katie Carson had twenty-one saves to lead Indiana to a 5-4 win.  The 7-6 win over UOP came off a Nicole Redder goal midway through the fourth quarter.  As good as Hartwick and Michigan are, Indiana might be the team to watch in the CWPA.  While their record is 5-6, Indiana’s six losses are to third-ranked UCLA, seventh-ranked California, twelfth-ranked Cal-State Northridge (by only two), top-ranked Stanford, in overtime to sixth-ranked Arizona State and to second-ranked USC.  You can make an outstanding case that Indiana should be ranked somewhere between thirteen and fifteen right now.

Player to Watch

Kirsten Hudson, Hartwick, Jr.:  Hudson scored fifteen goals on the weekend in leading Hartwick to four straight wins.  The Hawks have now won seven straight and it is in large part because of their superstar.  Hudson has already been named CWPA Northern Division Player of the Week twice this season and is coming off a sophomore campaign which saw her shatter Hartwick’s single season record for points.

Contest To Keep An Eye On

Top-ranked Stanford travels to the desert this weekend to take on sixth-ranked Arizona State.  The combination of road trip and dangerous team could equal upset this weekend.  The Sun Devils are looking for a marquee win to hang their NCAA at-large bid hat on.