Feb. 1, 2010

 

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

Let's take stock: Two top-10 teams facing off with surprising results. Three of the nation's top four opening up their schedules with flair. Add in a string of intriguing matchups from coast to coast, and it's safe to say that women's water polo season has arrived.

Before we begin our tour through the national scene, we have a special treat. Last December, I watched this coach take a celebratory dip in the pool after leading his men's squad to the NCAA Championship. Don't be surprised if the same celebration happens this spring for Jovan Vavic, with the second-ranked Trojans of USC bringing back a loaded roster.

 

I sat down with Coach Vavic to discuss his team and their NCAA title hopes. Below is our interview.

Last season, USC lost in the NCAA title game 5-4 to UCLA in what was a thrilling affair. What does your team have to do to return to the NCAA Championships and emerge victorious?

We need to score more goals. In that game, we were shut down by UCLA in the second half. Our defense was good in that game as we didn't allow a goal in the second half; however our offense only scored once. We scored seventeen goals in the semifinals against Hawaii so we have the firepower to do it. We have a powerful offense. It just needs to be more consistent.

Kami Craig won the Cutino Award in 2009 and was a United States Olympian in 2008. What makes her the special player that she is?

Kami is very powerful. She is strong and quick. Very few people have her size, speed and strength. She is a very determined player. Kami's won two World Championships Gold Medals and an Olympic Silver Medal so she is very experienced. Her skills combined with her experience make her a great player.

Tumua Anae was a first-team All-American goalie last year. What makes her the effective player that she is?

Tumua is the best at preparation. From working, to learning to studying she does it all. She is also very talented. I honestly believe that she is our future Olympic team goalie.
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Weekend Recap

Top-ranked Stanford started off its season in style at the NorCal Invitational. The Cardinal won three games over the weekend with the most impressive victory coming in a season-opening 15-5 rout of No. 15 UCSB. Freshman Annika Dries scored four goals while Melissa Seidemann chipped in three to lead the Cardinal. Stanford also defeated Cal State Monterey Bay and Pacific over the weekend to get its season off to a 3-0 start. And while the Gauchos fell to the Cardinal, UCSB deserves a tip of the cap for the schedule it's played to start the season, as they took on top-ranked Stanford, third-ranked Hawaii, fourth-ranked California and nineteenth-ranked Santa Clara this weekend -- after beating seventeenth-ranked Bakersfield last weekend. The Gauchos have gone 2-3 against that slate, an encouraging beginning for a team looking to find its way into the nation's top tier.

Prior to the loss against Stanford, the Gauchos took on third-ranked Hawaii on Friday night in the season-opener for the Rainbow Wahine. And until the third quarter, when Hawaii exploded with four goals to break open a game that was tied 2-2 at halftime, both teams looked dead even. The Eggens sisters each registered a hat trick to lead the Rainbow Wahine to a hard-fought 7-5 victory. UCSB was not the only ranked team Hawaii played this weekend as they also took down fourteenth-ranked UC-Davis 17-4 at the NorCal Invitational. Other victims of the Rainbow Wahine during the tournament were Pacific and Cal State East Bay. Hawaii's Northern California tour intensifies on Tuesday as they take on a Cal team that they edged out for the final NCAA at-large bid last season.

With five returning All-Americans, fourth-ranked California kicked off a campaign that they hope ends with them breaking their NCAA tournament appearance drought. The Golden Bears faced three ranked teams at the NorCal Invitational in fourteenth-ranked UC-Davis, fifteenth-ranked UCSB and nineteenth-ranked Santa Clara. Cal defeated all three opponents and looked very impressive in the process. Against UCSB, Cal raced out to an 8-3 halftime lead and never looked back in winning 12-7. Stephanie Peckham led the way with sixteen saves while Canadian International Emily Csikos pumped in four goals. The game against UC-Davis played out the same way as the Golden Bears jumped out to a 6-2 halftime lead in winning 11-5. Stephanie Schnugg's hat trick led the Cal attack against the Aggies. The contest with Santa Clara was never close as the Golden Bears won 16-2. Meghan Corso and Emily Csikos each scored a hat trick in the Cal romp. In other action, California defeated Cal State East Bay and Sonoma State by a combined score of 50-7.

The UCI/Bakersfield Mini Tournament had an intriguing nonconference clash between ninth-ranked UC-Irvine and tenth-ranked Arizona State highlighting the menu. In what has to register as a slight surprise, Arizona State demolished the Anteaters by a 13-3 count. The Sun Devils shut out UC-Irvine 4-0 in the third quarter to turn a 6-2 halftime lead into a 10-2 cushion. Australian sophomore Annabelle Carter scored six goals while New Zealand sophomore Dana Harvey had fourteen saves. Arizona State stole the show this weekend as they also shellacked seventeenth-ranked Cal State Bakersfield and sixteenth-ranked Long Beach State by a combined score of 32-2. The Sun Devils played like a team worthy of a top five ranking.

Thirteenth-ranked Cal-State Northridge opened up their season at the Cal Baptist Invitational. Northridge was the marquee team at this tournament and they went undefeated across four contests. The Matadors looked outstanding in their three wins over Azuza Pacific, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Fresno Pacific as they defeated them by a combined score of 45-12. However, Northridge had a bit of trouble against Cal Baptist. The Matadors let a 10-6 fourth quarter lead slip away and barely escaped with a 10-9 victory. Northridge is considered a favorite to win the Big West as there are a lot of water polo observers out there who feel that Jillian Stapf is one of the best two goalies in the country. It will be interesting to see how the Matadors perform against what should be stiffer competition at next week's Triton Invitational.

 

Player of the Week

 

Annabelle Carter, Arizona State, Soph.: The Australian Under-20 International was outstanding in leading the Sun Devils to a marquee win over ninth-ranked UC-Irvine. Arizona State is an intriguing team as their roster packs a lot of international flavor. This weekend's performance signals that the Sun Devils will be in the fight for an NCAA at-large bid.

 

Honorable Mention in this category goes to Jenna Casady as her four goals led Cal State East Bay to a stunning 13-10 upset victory over nineteenth-ranked Santa Clara.

 

Game to Watch

 

Water polo enthusiasts in the Bay Area will be getting a treat this weekend as the Stanford Invitational will be action-packed. Top-ranked Stanford, second-ranked USC, third-ranked Hawaii, fourth-ranked California, fifth-ranked UCLA, sixth-ranked Michigan, eighth-ranked San Jose State and tenth-ranked Arizona State are the eight teams that will be dueling in Palo Alto. All of these teams will be getting an opportunity to bank a marquee win that can be trotted out for the NCAA selection committee come tournament time.