March 11, 2009

 

By Trevor Freeman

Special to NCAA.com

 

Action was aplenty in the world of women’s water polo as nearly every top twenty team made their way into the pool this weekend.  Top-ranked Stanford, second-ranked USC and third-ranked UCLA took another step towards separating themselves from the rest of the field as they looked dominant against good opposition.  There was also a very tasty intersectional matchup between Big West favorite UC-Irvine and WWPA favorite Loyola Marymount along with some intriguing Invitationals unfolding.    

 

Before we delve into our analysis of the national scene, we sat down with the coach of an unlikely NCAA Tournament contender.  Nestled on Staten Island is a school that has quietly qualified for the NCAA Tournament two out of the last four seasons.  Maybe Wagner College is most known for its beautiful campus, however if the women’s water polo team continues to shoot down the competition they might soon be known as a water polo haven.  I sat down with their Coach Pat Beemer this week to discuss his team.  Many might remember Beemer from his playing days as he started in goal for several very successful UC San Diego squads.   

 

Wagner recently took third place at ECACs and defeated Iona and George Washington in the process.  The only team that defeated your squad were the eventual tournament champions in Brown.  Not only that, but you came back from being down 8-4 to defeat George Washington 9-8 in that third place game.  What has that done for the confidence level of your team and what do you have to do to return to the NCAA Tournament?

 

We're a very young team with high aspirations.  We took exception to entering the tournament seeded 6th, especially since we had to face off with the MAAC preseason favorite Iona.  Beating them in the first round was a huge boost to our confidence.  We battled with Brown but came up short and then faced GW in the third place game.  They got the better of us for the first three quarters, but the late rally we staged to overcome a four-goal deficit to win showed a lot of character from our squad.
 

Can you tell us little bit about Nicole Maichrowicz and what makes her the great player that she is?


"Micro" is all of 5 feet tall but has been a starter since her freshmen year because of the intangibles she brings into the pool.  She doesn't always show up big on the stat sheet, but she finds ways to help our team succeed.  She's an excellent passer and ball-handler and wreaks havoc on our opponents in transition.  Her tenacity is infectious, and as a co-captain this year, I expect a lot from her.
 

Kelsey Rodgers is off to a tremendous start to her college career.  Can you tell us what makes her so effective between the pipes?


Kelsey comes to our team after a two-year stint at Fullerton Junior College in California.  She's a seasoned veteran at the position and that has been quite evident in the first seven games of our season.  She's got a great save percentage at just under 65% and her goals against is hovering above 7.  She's our anchor on defense and we're happy to have her.
 

Are there are any newcomers that you think might make an impact down the stretch of this season?


I'm extremely pleased with our freshmen class for the 2009 season.  We lost five strong players last year to graduation, but we were successful in adding needed depth and speed to our team.  Sara Olguin is a two-meter presence and often commands defenses to drop on her.  Similarly, Lauren French rolls in and out of two-meter effectively and she is a speedster to boot.  Molly Robinson epitomized a utility player and can do just about everything.  Chelsea Beck has been starting for us defending two-meter.  Becca Hannings is speedy and helps fuel our transition game and Lauren Lovallo rounds out the freshmen group giving us needed depth at the goalie position.

You once played goalie for a coaching legend in Denny Harper at UC San Diego.  Can you tell us the greatest lesson that you learned from him?

Playing for Denny Harper was a growing experience for me.  He's been such a successful coach for, I don't know, about thirty years now.  There isn't a game situation that he hasn't already experienced umpteen times.  He taught me composure on the sidelines while he also embodied the tenacity required to coach the game.  All this and, he taught us all how he pioneered the ultra-rare skip lob shot.

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

On paper, the most intriguing game of the weekend was top-ranked Stanford traveling to the desert to take on fifth-ranked Arizona State in a Saturday afternoon duel.  However, the upset never had a chance to materialize as the Cardinal controlled the game from the start and never trailed in turning the Sun Devils back 13-6.  Freshman of the Year candidate Melissa Seidemann scored five goals in the Cardinal victory.  On Sunday, Stanford played in two games at the Aggie Shootout and won both.  The Cardinal defeated eleventh-ranked and tournament host UC Davis in their first contest and seventeenth-ranked Cal State Bakersfield in their second matchup.

 

Second-ranked USC faced off with eighth-ranked San Jose State and received a little scare from the Spartans.  San Jose State held a 4-2 lead midway through the second quarter, before USC scored four straight goals to end the first half and three more to start the second half.  The Trojans never let San Jose State get any closer than four goals to score the 13-6 victory. Two 2008 Olympians led the way as United States Olympian Kami Craig scored five goals while Dutch Olympic team goalie Ilse van der Meijden had fifteen saves.  Prior to playing the Spartans, USC took on sixteenth-ranked Long Beach State on Friday night and won 11-5.  2008 First-team All-American Tumua Anae had twelve saves in the USC victory.  USC’s goalie rotation is absolutely incredible.  The more and more you look at this from the outside the more and more it reminds of when Joe Montana and Steve Young were 1-2 on the San Francisco 49er depth chart.

 

Third-ranked UCLA was downright scary this weekend as they completely whitewashed the seventh-ranked Golden Bears of California.  While the score may say 11-5, it does not truly tell the story as UCLA raced out to a 7-1 halftime lead and 9-2 third quarter lead before taking their foot off the gas pedal in the fourth.  Tanya Gandy scored four goals and Katie Rulon chipped in three.  After defeating Cal on Saturday, UCLA showed up for day three of the Cal Lutheran Invitational and defeated the host team 22-3.  Their weekend ended with a 9-3 win over twelfth-ranked Cal State Northridge.  Often times, boxing analysts talk about how some fighters do not really come alive until they see their own blood.  I think what happened at the Stanford Invitational in early February lit a fire under this team.  When the Bruins lost their forty-six game winning streak to Hawaii and then the next day to Stanford by a wide margin, it was the equivalent of a championship boxer being cut.  The four-time defending NCAA Champions have been lights out since that tournament with their only loss coming to second-ranked USC in a game that saw the Bruins have a tying goal disallowed with two seconds left.    

 

Ninth-ranked UC-Irvine continues to quietly make their push for an NCAA at-large bid as they scored a huge win over tenth-ranked Loyola Marymount.  The Anteaters outscored the Lions 4-0 in the fourth quarter to score a crucial 10-6 victory.  Ashling Taylor scored three times while Gianna Rossi and Courtney Collyer each chipped in two goals.  The possible at-large candidacy of UC-Irvine is going to be one to watch.  Since the Big West is in their inaugural season, the conference does not have an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.  However, I think UC-Irvine still has an outstanding chance of garnering a bid if they win the Big West and limit the rest of their losses on the season to next week against third-ranked UCLA and March 26th against top-ranked Stanford. 

 

The Gaucho Invitational was this weekend and the story was sixth-ranked San Diego State showing that they are fully rebounded from last week’s shocking defeat at the hands of UC-Irvine.  The Aztecs advanced to the final of the Gaucho Invitational by defeating Pacific, nineteenth-ranked UC-San Diego and sixteenth-ranked Long Beach State.  In the title tilt, they met up with a team in thirteenth-ranked UCSB that has quietly been playing very good water polo as of late.  Thirteenth-ranked UCSB found their way into the tournament’s final by defeating Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, sixteenth-ranked Long Beach State and nineteenth-ranked UCSD. In the championship contest, the Gauchos caught the Aztecs flatfooted and were up 2-1 at the end of the first quarter before San Diego State came alive.  San Diego State outscored UCSB 6-1 the rest of the way to grab a crucial 7-3 win.  Anna Gonzales and Jenna Schuster each had two goals to lead the way. 

 

This game was critical for San Diego State as they are trying to position themselves for an at-large bid.  With their losses to fourth-ranked Hawaii and ninth-ranked UC-Irvine, San Diego State desperately needs to avoid any other loss to teams ranked below them and need to beat Hawaii and Arizona State when they meet up later in the regular season.  On the flip side, UC Santa Barbara is looming as a potential spoiler to UC-Irvine in the Big West and is just an outstanding story.  For those who are not familiar, UCSB lost twenty-one of their final twenty-three games last season and had three coaches between April 2007 and April 2008.  Men’s coach and water polo legend Wolf Wigo took the reigns in June and has turned this thing completely around without any significant player additions as he did not have enough time to recruit any new players of note.  In my season preview article, I laid out the case for UCSB as a potential national sleeper and discussed how they might be undervalued with a preseason ranking of seventeenth.  My biggest reasoning was that I felt having Wolf Wigo on the bench was worth about two to three goals.  UCSB lost a lot of close contests last season and sure enough they are winning those same games this season.

 

The Marist Invitational took place this weekend and fourteenth-ranked Hartwick was the story as the Hawks went undefeated.  Hartwick played five games with their contest against host Marist being the one that provided the most competition.  The Hawks and Red Foxes staged a nice, little duel as Marist stayed within striking distance the entire game behind four goals from Samantha Swartz and ten saves from Jessica Getchius.  However, they could never quite get over the hump as Hartwick should be proud of beating a strong team in their pool by a 16-12 count.  In their other contests, Hartwick defeated Siena, Iona, Wagner and St. Francis by a combined score of 77-32.  One other game of note that happened at Marist were the Seahawks of Wagner College defeating Brown in a rematch from the semifinals of last week’s ECAC Championships.  Wagner’s 8-6 win was a true team effort as six players found the scoresheet.  Goalie Kelsey Rodgers was the hero as she made nine saves including a five-meter penalty shot that came with under a minute left in the contest.   

 

There were two scores at the Aggie Shootout that WWPA followers should keep an eye on.  Most consider seventeenth-ranked Bakersfield to be a favorite to win the WWPA along with tenth-ranked Loyola Marymount and nineteenth-ranked UC San Diego.  The Roadrunners faced off with two teams that are hovering just under the national radar but could be genuine Rip Van Winkles when the postseason kicks off.  Cal State Bakersfield faced off with Sonoma State on Saturday and barely held off the upstart Seawolves.  Sonoma State pulled within 8-7 with 1:30 left before Amanda Ortiz got a late goal to put the game away for the Roadrunners.  On the second day of the tournament, Bakersfield got upset by Santa Clara.  The Roadrunners blew a 9-6 fourth quarter lead as Santa Clara scored three straight goals to force overtime.  The teams exchanged goals for two overtime periods before Meg Zimmerman performed heroics for the Broncos by hitting the game winner in the third overtime to give Santa Clara their biggest win of the season.

 

The Cal Lutheran Invitational easily had the most teams competing as their Invitational stretched over three days.  The team that I felt performed the best this weekend was the Sagehens of Pomona-Pitzer.  Pomona-Pitzer has to be considered the favorite to capture the SCIAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and they were impressive in going 3-1 on the weekend.  On Saturday, Pomona-Pitzer defeated UC-Santa Cruz 10-7 and Cal State Monterey Bay 13-12.  Nicole Reusch had eight goals to lead the way for Pomona-Pitzer in those two wins.  Sunday saw Pomona-Pitzer taking on Villanova and seventh-ranked California.  Pomona-Pitzer defeated Villanova 9-6 behind two goals apiece from Danielle Joseph and Annie Oxborough-Yankus.  California was Pomona-Pitzer’s only loss on the weekend as the Sagehens ran into a Cal team that was upset about their loss to UCLA. 

 

In other action, fifteenth-ranked Michigan and eighteenth-ranked Indiana were both impressive as they each rolled through Washington & Jefferson, Chatham and Penn State-Behrend.  These Big Ten rivals along with Hartwick are still looking like the teams to beat in the CWPA.

 

Player to Watch

 

Melissa Seidemann, Stanford, Fr:  Seidemann is pretty close to locking up Freshman of the Year honors and we are just reaching the season’s midpoint.  She scored five goals against Arizona State over the weekend and was the hero in top-ranked Stanford’s win over USC at the UCI Invitational two weeks ago.

 

Contest To Keep An Eye On

 

The ninth-ranked Anteaters of UC-Irvine are hot having won three straight games with two of those wins coming against sixth-ranked San Diego State and tenth-ranked Loyola Marymount.  UC-Irvine has worked their way into the discussion for an NCAA at-large bid and have a great chance to make their case even stronger as they travel to UCLA to take on the Bruins.  If Irvine wins that game, they are firmly standing in the doorway of that at-large bid.