May 3, 2010

 

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com


Championship weekend.  The last four automatic bids into the most prestigious women’s water polo event in America were contested on Sunday.  The play was electric and the proceedings taught us a valuable lesson.  That lesson is that under no circumstance should you ever count out a team that has won five straight NCAA Tournaments.

Before we take the plunge into Championship Weekend, we start this week’s notebook with our interview of a head coach who led his team to conference championship glory last Sunday.  Dan Klatt spearheaded tenth-ranked UC-Irvine to the Big West tournament title last weekend and I caught up with him to discuss last week’s triumph as well as his recent appointment to the coaching staff of the United States National team.  Below is my interview with the 2004 United States Olympian and leader of the Anteaters.

Your squad seems to peak late in the season and this year was no exception as you took home your second straight Big West tournament title.  Can you tell us a little bit about why that is?

When the Big West came about and with that an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in the future, we switched our primary focus to the Big West Tournament. Even though the automatic bid isn't in effect until next year, we wanted to start preparing our players to focus on this as the premier event of the season.

Jessy Cardey capped off a great freshman campaign by winning the Big West Tournament MVP.  Can you tell us about her and what you think she can be in the future?

She was great over the last half of the season.  As a freshman coming in, she had to get used to our training, weightlifting and conditioning and she was able to do that.  Jessy is a great athlete, very fluid in the water. She is also a great shooter with a great arm action.  Jessy has also been playing water polo since she was very young. There is no substitute for that.  She understands the game and has big-time game experience. I think she was able to come on down the stretch because of the quality of our other players. People weren't able to focus all their attention on her. We had a very well rounded attack. Seven players had three or more goals in the tournament.

You were just made an Assistant Coach on the United States National team.  Can you tell us a little about that and how it will benefit UC-Irvine down the road?

It will make me a better coach.  I came to UC-Irvine straight from the high school level and have never served as an assistant coach on the college level.  I never got the chance to sit under a great leader and
learn how to lead and delegate responsibilities effectively to assistant coaches.  Having this position with the National team, will enable me to travel around the world and see some of the tactics employed by coaches in other countries as well as learn from the current United States staff.  I think that will be the biggest benefit to UC-Irvine because I want to be able to give my players the effort and guidance they deserve.
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The hottest action of the weekend was at the MPSF Tournament at UCLA and it was where the biggest series of upsets took place.  After losing 14-5 to USC on April 17th, most people dismissed UCLA’s chances of winning a sixth NCAA Tournament.  However, UCLA did not quit on themselves as they stewed for two weeks and now look like a team primed to win a sixth straight NCAA title.  The Bruins emerged victorious at MPSFs and they did it by going through fourth-ranked Hawaii, top-ranked Stanford and second-ranked USC.  In the win over USC, the Bruins held on in the closing moments for an 8-7 victory.  The key all weekend was UCLA’s power play defense.  They held Hawaii, Stanford and USC to under twenty-five percent on the six on five and that was the difference in those three games.  

Heading into the CWPA Tournament, there were three teams that most observers felt were better than the rest of the field.  Those squads were seventh-ranked Michigan, eleventh-ranked Hartwick and fourteenth-ranked Indiana.  Michigan lived up to its top billing as it arrived into the Eastern Championships by virtue of wins over Princeton and Harvard.  Meanwhile, Indiana edged out Brown and then held off Hartwick in an 8-7 nailbiter to advance to the title tilt.  The championship matchup was a defensive struggle as both teams put on a clinic in how to play both frontcourt and power play defense.  However, Lauren Orth’s score from eight meters out gave Michigan a 7-5 lead that they would never relinquish.  Michigan’s victory over Indiana means that the Wolverines will be arriving at NCAAs on a twenty-game winning streak.  Do not be surprised if this team finds its way into the Final Four as they defend as well as any team I have seen play this season.  Leah Robertson is an absolute star as she is tremendous defensively and has an underrated offensive arsenal.  Robertson can lead the counter as well as go down into two meters and make a play.

Form held in the WWPA as top-seeded and eighth-ranked Loyola Marymount met second-seeded and eighteenth-ranked UC-San Diego for the tournament championship.  The two sides have a long history of WWPA dominance on both the men’s and women’s sides and the pairing was no surprise.  In what was another great game between two good squads, Loyola Marymount claimed the WWPA bid with a 13-10 victory.  I watched highlights of Loyola Marymount’s performance on the weekend and the Lions looked outstanding.  They were executing in all facets of the game as their counterattack, power play and two-meter game were running like a finely tuned machine.  Keep an eye on LMU at NCAAs as this is a well-coached team that boasts NCAA experience and will arrive ready to handle the big stage.

The SCIAC tournament was held on the campus of Pomona-Pitzer and the Sagehens won their way into the NCAA Tournament by defeating Occidental 12-11 in the championship game.   Coach Alex Rodriguez’s teams on both the men’s and women’s sides seem to play better down the stretch of the season and this campaign was no exception.  Pomona-Pitzer has won five straight and seven out of their last eight with the only loss coming on the road at the hands of Loyola Marymount.

Player of the Week

Grace Reynolds, UCLA, Jr. and Tamara Perea, Pomona-Pitzer, Jr.:  Reynolds was one of the most anticipated newcomers to UCLA this season as there was a lot of hype surrounding the transfer from Cal.  The former United States Jr. National team member lived up to that superstar billing this weekend which included four goals in an 8-6 victory over Hawaii in a contest that at the time looked like an NCAA elimination game.  Meanwhile, Perea had an outstanding SCIAC Tournament which included five goals in the SCIAC Championship game win over Occidental.