April 20, 2009

 

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

It was a weekend that saw the top two teams in the country battle once again with a regular season crown hanging in the balance.  It was also a week that saw the first pressure packed contests of the postseason get underway as the CWPA contested their divisional tournaments.  The temperature is rising and it should hit a volcanic level next week as all five automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament will be up for grabs.  Most would argue that the hottest action will be at the Duke Kahanamoku Aquatics Center as the MPSF Tournament will be contested. 

Competing in the MPSF Conference Championships will be a Rainbow Wahine squad looking to solidify their NCAA at-large resume.  This is a group that will be taking nothing for granted as you can make an outstanding case that Hawaii was the first team left out of the last two NCAA tournaments.  With the water polo world about to be firmly centered on the Hawaiian Islands, I sat down with their head coach Michel Roy and spoke about the upcoming MPSF Tournament, the race for an at-large bid and his team.  Below is our interview.

Heading into MPSFs, your team is locked into a tremendous first round matchup with UCLA.  What do you have to do to beat the Bruins?

We beat them once earlier in the season and it was a very difficult win.  We will have to play a very good game as they are a great opponent and four-time defending NCAA Champion.  We have the players and the talent but there is nothing easy in this conference.  We need to play great team defense and play with confidence if we hold a chance of success.

Hawaii has probably been the first team left out of the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons.  Does that serve as extra motivation heading into MPSFs?

This is the fifth straight year that we finished the regular season ranked fourth in the ACWPC Top 20.  We have been unlucky the past two years and missed out based on the criteria that was used.  This year the criteria has changed and hopefully that will help us.  I believe that under the new criteria we would have gone to NCAAs the past two seasons.  This season we've beaten Cal, San Diego State and Arizona State and we should be in a good place to get in, but we have to win our games at the conference tournament, because all that does not mean much.

Kelly Mason has been a superstar for your squad.  What makes her the special player that she is?

Kelly has been playing water polo for a number of years.  She is on the New Zealand National Team and is one of the best players we have.  She has a great outside shot and is a very motivated competitor.

Leonie van der Molen has also been very effective in the field for you.  What makes her the great player that she is?

Leonie is one of eight girls on our team who competed at Junior Worlds in 2007.  She was one of the top five leading scorers in the tournament for the Junior Dutch National team.  She has a great ability around the net and great ability to score goals one-on-one, we are counting on her and the others for our success.

Serena Bredin has been very strong between the pipes for your team.  What makes her an effective goalie?

Serena is a Canadian Junior National team player.  She is a great athlete with strong legs.  Serena is a good force on our counterattack as she makes great outlet passes.

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No. 1 faced off with No. 2 this week as top-ranked Stanford traveled to USC to face the second-ranked Women of Troy.  If this game served as a preview of the upcoming MPSF and NCAA tournament Finals, then Jovan Vavic will be adding the women’s title to the men’s one that he earned last fall.  USC put it on Stanford in a fashion that was stunning.  The Trojans jumped out to a 3-0 lead and never trailed in winning 11-6.  What was amazing was how easily USC shredded the Cardinal.  Their shooters were picking out spots no matter where they were in the pool.  Seven players scored for USC with Michelle Stein, Joelle Bekhazi, Kristen Dronberger and Kally Lucas each scoring two goals.  Tumua Anae had a tremendous outing in the cage as she put up 10 saves.  All in all, USC overwhelmed Stanford in this game and one has to wonder if there will be any carryover effect heading into the postseason.
   
Qualification for the CWPA Championship tournament and an NCAA automatic bid began as the Southern, Western and Northern Divisions held their postseason dances.  The marquee CWPA matchup was between 12th-ranked Michigan and 17th-ranked Indiana for the Western Division title.  The game between the two rivals was an intense contest that saw Michigan jump out to an 8-3 lead and survive a ferocious Indiana rally to win 9-8.  Julie Hyrne scored five times in the Michigan win.  This victory not only gives Michigan the Western Division title but extends their winning streak to 22 games.  I must state that I find it surprising that Michigan is still sitting outside the top 10.  I believe the Wolverines are one of the top eight teams in the country.  I hope there is some reevaluation of Michigan’s poll position before the end of the season as I cannot fathom how the Wolverines are ranked five spots behind a team in San Diego State that they beat last week in San Diego.    

In the South, top-seeded Maryland defeated second-seeded Princeton 14-10 behind five goals from freshman Elina Goldenberg to win the CWPA Southern Division tournament.  Up North, 15th-ranked Hartwick defeated Harvard, Utica, Connecticut College and 19th-ranked Brown to win the Northern Division championship.  In the critical contest with Brown, Hartwick won 11-7 behind three goals each from Kirsten Hudson and Jessica McKee.

Player to Watch

Jillian Stapf, Cal State Northridge, Jr:  Stapf had a huge weekend.  First off, she broke her own school record for saves in a season.  Secondly, her 14 saves led the Matadors to an upset of ninth-ranked UC-Irvine.  The 7-5 win over Irvine gave Northridge a share of the inaugural Big West regular season championship.  An outstanding case can be made that Jillian Stapf has been one of the best two goalies in the nation this season.  I would be surprised if she did not make one of the first three All-American strings.  

Contest To Keep An Eye On

The biggest weekend of the season is obviously the magical one of May when the NCAA tournament takes place.  However, this upcoming weekend is the second most important one as every automatic NCAA bid will be contested in the various conference tournaments.  The matchup that is the most intriguing to me is the first round MPSF clash between third-ranked UCLA and fourth-ranked Hawaii.  Win and Hawaii is in the NCAA tournament safely.  Lose and they once again ar