March 17, 2009

 

by Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

This weekend of water polo was highlighted by two fantastic players setting school records a country apart.  At the LMU Invitational, senior Nicole Hughes of Loyola Marymount shattered the school record for career goals along with goals scored in a single game.  Meanwhile, junior Kirsten Hudson was lighting up Oneonta, New York as she shattered Hartwick’s school record for career goals.  While these two players are a country apart, their names should be together when the first string of the All-America team is announced at the end of this spring’s campaign.

Before delving into our review of the national scene, we are first going to take everybody on a trip out to wine country and speak with the head coach of a Rip Van Winkle that may shake up the WWPA come postseason. 

I sat down with the head coach of Sonoma State and she is somebody who needs no introduction to fans of women’s water polo.  While Coralie Simmons is only in her second season as head coach, she is the most decorated former women’s player currently in the coaching ranks.  Simmons was a two-time National Player of the Year at UCLA and was a member of the silver medal winning 2000 Olympic team.  In those Olympics, Simmons tied for the team lead in scoring with nine goals on the tournament for Team USA.  I caught up with Coach Simmons before their games this weekend.

Your team feels like it could be a lively underdog in the WWPA as you have had close battles with Bakersfield and Santa Clara.  What does your team have to do to get over the hump and knock off a true conference contender?

We have yet to put together four solid quarters.  We have generally been playing two to three good quarters and then we have an off one.  We also need to do the little things better.  Hopefully we have gleaned some confidence from playing these teams close.

Samantha Mullins is an outstanding player for your squad.  Can you tell us a little bit about her and what makes her the player that she is?

Samantha is the heart and soul of our team.  She is a free spirit and plays with a lot of emotion.  The other athletes look to her for her experience.  In the water, she tries to use her creativity.  She is a player that the opposition tries to key on.

Laurel Stricklin is another big-time player.  Can you tell us a little bit about her and what makes her so effective?

Samantha and Laurel are our 1-2 punch.  They were high school teammates at Brea Olinda High School and their chemistry is essential for our success.  Laurel is a lefty who plays the center position and she tries to both score and draw exclusions for us.  We go as Laurel goes.

Are there any newcomers that you see making an impact for you down the stretch of the season?

Returning sophomore Emily Pierce has moved into the starting lineup and I think she will be important for us.  Andrea Brookbank is a senior who is new to receiving a lot of minutes and she will be crucial for us to have success.

You were a two-time National Player of the Year at UCLA, a member of the 2000 Silver-Medal winning Olympic team and are the most high-profile former Women's player currently head coaching.  Does that help at all in recruiting?

It does and it doesn't.  It depends on how much exposure the players you are recruiting have had to the national level.  Some know and I like players who take the time to learn the history of our sport.  As time goes by, less and less players know.

You played for two coaching legends in Guy Baker and Adam Krikorian.  Can you tell us the greatest lessons you learned from them?

They have a lot of similarities in terms of their coaching style and they both know so much about the game of water polo.  From organization to how to practice, they both are exceptional.  From a coaching standpoint, I learned from Adam how to have patience with your team and how to develop your talent.  From Guy I learned how to get the most out of each player on your team.  They both inspired me to become a coach and change the lives of young people.

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Third-ranked UCLA faced off with two top ten teams this week in ninth-ranked UC-Irvine and eighth-ranked San Jose State.  The first contest was on Thursday afternoon against the Anteaters and many thought this game had the makings of being a good one as Irvine had racked up some impressive victories over the past month.  However, UCLA would have none of that as they absolutely blitzed UC-Irvine.  The game was over by the time the horn sounded to end the first quarter as UCLA jumped out to a 6-1 lead at the end of the initial stanza and never looked back.  The final score was 18-4 and it was a result that damages Irvine’s sleeper NCAA at-large bid chances.  Nine Bruins scored in the contest with Tanya Gandy, Priscilla Orozco and Katie Rulon each pocketing a hat trick.  UCLA’s other matchup with a top ten opponent was on Saturday against San Jose State and the Spartans were able to keep the game competitive.  Once again, UCLA grabbed an early lead as they were up 3-0 before Adrianna Vogt put San Jose State on the board.  The Bruins never let the game get closer than two goals the rest of the way and scored a strong 10-6 victory.  Tanya Gandy tied her career high with five goals in the win.  Sandwiched between those two victories over UC-Irvine and San Jose State was a 14-6 victory over twentieth-ranked Santa Clara.  

Tumua Anae sparkled in the cage for second-ranked USC in their only action of the weekend.  The Trojans took on sixth-ranked Arizona State and Anae was the story as she recorded twenty saves in the 15-6 Trojan victory.  While the score was 15-6, it does not truly tell the story of USC’s dominance as the Women of Troy held an 11-1 lead at the half.  Kami Craig was also in good form at two-meter as she had several nice scores out of set.  Craig led all scorers with four goals.  Forel Davies, Michelle Stein, Alexandra Kiss and Nadia Dan each chipped in two in the big USC victory.  The Women of Troy have a major test this Tuesday as they will be facing off with the fourth-ranked Rainbow Wahine of Hawaii out on the Islands.

Seventh-ranked California scored their biggest win in years in upending fifth-ranked San Diego State 13-11.  This Cal team showed character as San Diego State came back from being down 12-9 to cut the lead to 12-11 with 3:05 left in the contest.  However, the Golden Bears would not fold as Camille Hewko drew a five-meter with 1:46 left in the ballgame and freshman Emily Csikos calmly put away the penalty shot to give California the crucial win.  Stephanie Peckham’s ten saves and Stephanie Schnugg’s four goals led the way for the Golden Bears.  This win not only elevates California to the fringes of the NCAA at-large bid race but it deals a severe blow to the Aztecs’ goal of making a third straight NCAA Tournament.

Thirteenth-ranked Hartwick ran their winning streak to fourteen games with a pair of wins over Ivy League opponents.  Hartwick defeated Harvard 16-10 behind six goals from Kirsten Hudson and three from Barbara Amaro.  Their second win of the weekend was by a 13-10 count over Brown.  Kirsten Hudson scored seven times in that game and became Hartwick’s all-time leading scorer with 275 goals on her career.  Hudson has easily been one of the best seven players in the country this season and hopefully she is rewarded for that with a spot on the first string of this year’s All-America team.  Hartwick has been playing excellent water polo and will be heading out West for the Aztec Invitational at San Diego State.  The Hawks will see Pacific, California, San Jose State and Hawaii while out there.  If Hartwick can get a split, we may well see this little school from upstate New York move into the top ten.

Fifteenth-ranked Michigan was busy from Thursday through Sunday as they played and won six games over that time span.  The Wolverines defeated Gannon, Mercyhurst, Iona, Marist, Siena and Villanova.  The win over MAAC favorite Marist was the most impressive as Michigan routed the Red Foxes 10-2.  Mary Chatigny, Cara Reitz and Alison Mantel each put up a hat trick in that win over Marist.  Michigan has now won thirteen straight games and is looking primed to defend their CWPA crown.

A number of strong squads were competing this weekend at the LMU Invitational. Ranked teams included eleventh-ranked Cal State Northridge, eighteenth-ranked Cal State Bakersfield, and nineteenth-ranked Indiana along with the tournament host and tenth-ranked Lions of Loyola Marymount.  The only team to go undefeated on the weekend was the host Lions as they beat Colorado State, Indiana, Sonoma State and Princeton.  However, the true story was Nicole Hughes shattering Loyola Marymount’s single game and career records for goals.  LMU’s closest games were against Indiana and Sonoma State.  Against Indiana, LMU jumped out to a 7-3 lead early in the third quarter and held off an Indiana rally to win 8-6.  Nicole Hughes was the story in the game against Sonoma State as she scored seven goals to lead LMU to an 11-7 win.  Scoring seven would not be enough for Hughes as she dropped eight on Princeton to break the LMU single game record for goals in a game.

There were a couple of other results of note at the LMU Invitational.  The biggest being eighteenth-ranked Bakersfield upsetting Cal State Northridge 5-4 on an Alyson Moss overtime strike.  This is a huge feather in the cap of the Roadrunners and showed that this team has character as they were one day removed from being upset themselves by Indiana.  Eleventh-ranked Cal State Northridge also survived a scare from Sonoma State as they scraped by the Seawolves 12-11.

Player to Watch

Nicole Hughes, Loyola Marymount, Sr.:  This was the toughest weekend to make a choice as both Kirsten Hudson and Nicole Hughes were fantastic.  Shattering two school records tipped the vote towards Hughes.  A goal scoring machine, Hughes scored 24 goals on the weekend with a record shattering performance of eight against Princeton.  Hughes was a second-team All-American last season and should be elevated to first-team in May as she has been magnificent all year long.

Contest To Keep An Eye On

The world of women’s water polo will be focused on the Hawaiian Islands on Tuesday night as the second-ranked Trojans of USC will be facing the fourth-ranked Rainbow Wahine.  At 1-3 in the MPSF, the Rainbow Wahine will come out desperate to pull the upset.  Look for Hawaii to play inspired ball and keep this game close.  This game will be much tighter than the 11-3 romp USC scored earlier in the season.