Thinking Big Out West
Jan. 20, 2009
By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com
Women’s Water Polo kicks off this weekend and it’s a special one, as a new conference has been added to one of the fastest-growing NCAA sports. The Big West joins the women’s fray this spring. With their debut adding a new excitement to the world of women’s water polo, we decided to sit down with perhaps their biggest coaching name. Wolf Wigo stopped by to discuss his UCSB Gauchos who currently sit at seventeenth in the ACWPC preseason rankings. We discussed the new challenges he faces in his first season with the UCSB women and below is our interview.
The UCSB men's team has clearly established themselves as an upper echelon squad. This is evidenced by the fact that the Gauchos are one of only four teams to finish the season ranked in the top six over the past three campaigns (USC, Stanford and UCLA are the other three teams). However, the women's team you inherited had three coaches between April 2007 and April 2008. They also suffered through a sixteen game losing streak last season. Can you tell us a little bit about the challenge of building their confidence back up and establishing a stability which it seems like the program needed?
This team has been through a lot. As you said with four different head coaches in the past year - no team wants to be in that situation. This upcoming season will be a huge challenge for the players and the coaching staff for a number of reasons.
First, this is a team that went 2-21 in the final twenty-three games, which included a sixteen game losing streak. As a player or coach I have never been in a situation like that but I do know that even when you lose four or five games in a row it is very painful for the players and the coaches mentally. Add to that we will be without two of the top three scorers from last season, our starting goalkeeper graduated, and finally no recruits were brought in who will see substantial playing time this year and the picture might seem very, very grim.
Despite all this I am cautiously optimistic as the players have been training very hard and have a strong desire to show the rest of the country that they are better than the last two seasons have indicated.
This is the first year of the Big West and there does not seem to be one team that is superior to everybody else. What does UCSB have to do in order to take home the inaugural title?
It is very exciting to be moving into the Big West. I think it is great that there is not a team that can walk away with it; however Northridge, Irvine, Davis and Long Beach are all very good teams and we will have to play awesome to beat them. I think it is a great motivator that if we can get the program moving in the right direction we could be competing in the NCAA Championship
UCSB will need to improve dramatically throughout the season and we will have to have great goalkeeper play to even have a chance to win the conference this season.
Can you tell us a little bit about Gillian Morgan and what makes her the player that she is?
Gillian is a natural shooter who has a very deceptive hitch to her shot. She has one of those shots that even if you know what is coming; it is still difficult to stop. I also like that she is very solid at both ends of the pool, very versatile and can play a lot of minutes.
Lizzie Rouleau seems underrated at the center position. What are you expecting out of her this spring?
Lizzie is one of the reasons that I am cautiously optimistic for this season despite the daunting challenge ahead. She did not have too much production last year but she is in great shape now and has been absolutely tearing up the training sessions during the winter break.
I think Lizzie will benefit more than the average player from the hard double day training that the team put in right after Christmas until school started. The team had never trained during this break and I hope it can make a difference with our fitness levels. Like Gillian she can play great defense while being a tremendous offensive threat.
You are obviously one of the top men's coaches in the nation; however this is your first foray in coaching women at the NCAA level. Thus far, what would you say is the main difference between coaching the two?
The women are a lot more coachable and also more willing to admit that they do not know certain things as well. We have been training hard and there have been no complaints and overall it is a much more pleasant situation than I imagined. I have a great coaching staff that is very experienced at the Collegiate Women's (Tim Settem) and Sr. Women's level (Cathy Neushul) so that makes everything much easier as well. Without having any official games yet it is a loaded question but I look forward to a hopefully exciting season that is an improvement on the previous few years at UCSB.
I noted that UCSB had six high school seniors sign Letters of Intent in December with one of those seniors being a United States National Youth Team goalie. Can you tell us a little bit about your first recruiting class?
Ruth Milne (Woodside HS/Redwood City, Calif.), Sarah Zuziak (Laguna Beach HS/Laguna Beach, Calif.), Bryce Winton (Chino Hills HS/Chino, Calif.), Kilee Dreyer (Riverside Poly HS/Riverside, Calif.), Kacey Creek (Royal HS/Simi Valley, Calif.) and Rachel Nelson (Cabrillo HS/Lompoc, Calif.) will join us for the 2009-10 season. We will likely be signing more players as well to round out the class.
Ruth is one of the top-ranked goalies in the nation for her class. Her 5-11 stature makes her an imposing presence in the goal. Her international experience playing on the USA National Youth Team will make an immediate impact on our program. Most importantly, her reputation as an ultimate team player will be invaluable to our team. Bryce comes to us with an enormous amount of water polo experience. She is a very versatile player with a powerful outside shot and she is also a dangerous threat inside. She has what it takes to play at the college level and will help the team right away. All these student-athletes can contribute to the team right away and will help to build our program in the right direction.
Most observers know Wolf Wigo from his playing days as he is one of the greatest players our country has ever produced. A three-time Olympian, Wigo was the team captain of the United States Olympic team in Athens and its leading scorer in Sydney (where he was named to the five player All-World first-team). However, we sat down with Coach Wigo because his Gauchos have a chance to be a national story in the upcoming season. Last year, the Gauchos did lose sixteen straight games and twenty-one out of their last twenty-three. If you dig deeper into those numbers though you will see that UCSB hung tough against a lot of upper echelon squads as they played San Diego State, Cal, Arizona State and San Jose State to one or two goal games in that streak. Having one of the sharpest water polo minds in the country sitting on the bench could easily turn some of those losses into wins. This UCSB team is undervalued at seventeenth in the ACWPC preseason rankings. Do not be surprised if the Gauchos sneak into the top ten by midseason.
The biggest story in women’s water polo is that this is the inaugural season of the Big West conference. Many perennial powerhouses will now be competing under this banner and that includes five teams in the ACWPC preseason rankings. Ninth-ranked UC Davis, thirteenth-ranked UC-Irvine, fourteenth-ranked Cal State Northridge, fifteenth-ranked Long Beach State and the seventeenth-ranked Gauchos of UC Santa Barbara will all be fighting for the inaugural crown.
UC Davis graduated a lot of firepower from their squad that finished fourth at last season’s NCAA Tournament. However, All-American Lindsay Kiyama and WWPA All-Freshman performer Dakota Mohr return for an Aggies team that should contend for the Big West title and an NCAA at-large bid. UC-Irvine’s women’s team is coached by one of the top young water polo minds in the business in 2004 United States Olympic team member Dan Klatt. Klatt’s squad will be a heavy contender for the Big West title as they bring back three of their top four scorers in Kat Plummer, Gianna Rossi and Sarah Frost. The key for them will be replacing departed goalie Lauren Machanis who graduated as the all-time leader in saves for the Anteaters. Cal State Northridge might be the favorite in the Big West as they have arguably the conference’s best player in goalie Jillian Stapf. The All-American competed at the Speedo Top 40 Tournament and has the ability to keep games competitive by herself. On offense, All-American Chelsea Curran returns to lead the Matadors. Another major name in the men’s coaching profession will be guiding a women’s squad this season as two-time Olympian Gavin Arroyo heads up Long Beach State. Arroyo’s Long Beach men are a perennial top ten team and he will try to bring his women to that level. Lauren Sieprath was an All-Freshman performer in the MPSF last season and will lead the 49ers. The New Zealander had forty-five goals last season for Long Beach State.
While the Big West will not have an automatic NCAA Tournament bid in their first season, there are three conferences out West that do. They are the SCIAC, WWPA and MPSF. We will conclude our preseason preview with the MPSF, as that is where the top eight teams in the initial ACWPC preseason rankings reside.
Loyola Marymount is a strong favorite in the WWPA as they return second-team All-American Nicole Hughes. Hughes scored ninety goals and was efficient while doing it as she shot 55-percent from the field. She is joined by All-WWPA performer Diana Romero and WWPA All-Freshman honoree MaryAnn Campos. As good as Loyola Marymount is, they will have to watch out for a Cal State Bakersfield squad that is looming as a dark horse. Cal State Bakersfield returns two All-Americans in 2008 WWPA Player of the Year Amanda Ortiz and 2008 WWPA Newcomer of the Year Veronica Campbell. All-WWPA two-meter Petra Koudelova also returns for a team that might be the biggest Rip Van Winkle in NCAA women’s water polo. UC San Diego will be in the mix as they return Division III All-Americans Sydney Gstettenbauer and Stephanie Bocian along with WWPA All-Freshman performer Hanalei Crowell. Santa Clara is ranked twentieth in the ACWPC preseason rankings and they return leading scorer and All-WWPA performer Amy Lamb as well as All-WWPA freshman team member Taylor Harkins.
Despite losing SCIAC Player of the Year Laura Condon, Pomona-Pitzer will be favored once again to bring home the SCIAC Championship and lone NCAA tournament bid. Coach Alexander Rodriguez returns several All-SCIAC standouts in Tamara Perea, Nicole Reusch and Janelle Gyorffy. Anybody who has watched Pomona-Pitzer’s men’s and women’s team knows that Coach Rodriguez’s teams always end the year on a roll. That being said, Cal Lutheran has the talent to block Pomona-Pitzer’s goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament. The Regals bring back All-SCIAC performers Meredith Butte and Joy Cyprian. Butte originally attended California before transferring to Cal Lutheran and is a player to watch. She is one of those players that can do a little bit of everything. Last season, Butte scored sixty-one goals, drew sixty ejections, dished out thirty-five assists and had forty-seven steals.
The biggest conference in the East and Midwest is the CWPA and it is going to be a war for their lone NCAA automatic bid as Michigan, Hartwick, Princeton, Indiana and Maryland are all bringing back strong teams.
Michigan currently sits at tenth in the ACWPC preseason rankings and they are fresh off a sixth place NCAA finish. The Wolverines return All-Americans Julie Hyrne and Leah Robertson. All-CWPA performers Brittany May, Sharayah Hernandez and Alison Mantel are also back for a Michigan team that is absolutely loaded. Hartwick stands as the biggest threat to Michigan in the CWPA as they bring back All-American Kirsten Hudson. Hudson scored a staggering 104 goals last year and might be the best player on the East Coast. Joining her in the Hartwick attack is Jessica McKee who was last season’s CWPA Northern Rookie of the Year and All-CWPA selection Barbara Amaro. On defense, Hartwick is returning their All-CWPA goalie, Jessica Dorman. Princeton, Indiana and Maryland are only a slight notch below Michigan and Hartwick and could play the role of spoiler in the CWPA. Princeton has a dangerous core returning in All-American Phoebe Champion and All-CWPA standouts Lauren Brunner, Claire Jacobson and Tanya Wilcox. Indiana brings back two All-CWPA performers in goalie Katie Carson and two-meter Maggie Hannon. Maryland is a sleeper in the CWPA as the Terrapins bring back three All-CWPA performers in Elizabeth Hopkins, Blaise Stanicic and Rachel Jordan.
Also out East is the MAAC Conference and you will have a pitched fight for their lone tournament bid. Marist won the MAAC last season and has three second-team All-MAAC performers returning from their squad in two-meter Katelin McCahill, Samantha Swartz and Angie Rampton. The Red Foxes will be trying to build on their impressive 27-10 record and eighth place NCAA Tournament finish from last fall. Their biggest challengers will be Iona as they return the MAAC Offensive Player of the Year in Lauren Peterson, co-MAAC Defensive Player of the Year in goalie Kathleen Link and Rookie of the Year in Maggie Wood. That trio could tip the scales in the favor of the Gaels. Wagner is a team to watch in the MAAC as they return second-team All-MAAC performer Nicole Maichrowicz and starting goalie Kristen Spector. Coach Pat Beemer gives Wagner a strong presence on the sidelines as he has piloted this program to NCAAs once before.
The MPSF is the dominant women’s water polo conference as the top eight teams in the nation all have the NCAA Tournament firmly in their sights. USC, Stanford and UCLA are the top three teams in the conference and country, however all three of those teams could be tripped up on any given day by Hawaii, California, San Diego State, San Jose State and Arizona State.
The Sun Devils of Arizona State are ranked eighth in the country and could be a better team than that ranking as they return first-team All-American Addison McGrath and All-American Kelly Phelps. Todd Clapper is a rising star in the coaching ranks. He was recently named head coach of the New Zealand Senior National women’s team and has brought in several players from New Zealand that will make this team very interesting to watch. San Jose State returns All-American Juliet Moss who is one of the top two-meter players in the women’s game. Sophomore Adrianna Vogt is also back for the Spartans and is looking to build on her impressive freshman campaign which saw her score forty-five goals.
San Diego State has made the past two NCAA Tournaments and finished in fifth place last spring. The Aztecs return second-team All-American Jenna Schuster and All-American Anna Gonzales as well as MPSF All-Freshman performer Sarah Brady. This is a team with veteran experience in the field. The key for them will be between the pipes, as they need to find an adequate replacement for goalie Heather Fenske. The Rainbow Wahine of Hawaii are ranked fourth in the preseason ACWPC rankings and they return a ton of firepower to the Islands, as first-team All-American Kelly Mason and All-American Liisa van Raalte are both back. They are joined by MPSF All-Freshman team members Leone Van Der Molen and Carmen Eggens. California currently resides at fifth in the preseason ACWPC rankings and will be hoping to make a push this season. The most prominent returning player is Meghan Corso who scored thirty-five goals last spring. Optimism surrounding the Golden Bears is based largely on their recruiting class. California signed two prominent Canadian players in Emily Csikos and Athina Vazeos along with Australian Libby McLaren. The Golden Bears also inked Lindsay Dorst who was a member of the United States National Youth team. If you recognize her last name it is because her father is former United States Olympic goalie Chris Dorst.
The Cardinal of Stanford are ranked second in the ACWPC preseason rankings and they have the talent in place to win it all this season. First-team All-American Lauren Silver returns to lead the Stanford attack and she is joined by 2008 United States Olympian Jessica Steffens who redshirted last season due to Olympic commitments. The offense is just loaded as they also return All-American Kelly Eaton along with MPSF All-Freshman team members Allie Gerrity and Kim Krueger. MPSF Newcomer of the Year and All-American Amber Oland will anchor the Stanford defense.
Sitting atop the 2009 ACWPC preseason Top 20 is a man who is used to being there. Fresh off winning the men’s title in December, Jovan Vavic has the Women of Troy preseason ranked first in the country. The Trojans will be led by two-meter offense Kami Craig. Craig returns for her junior season after redshirting last year so that she could compete with the United States women’s team in the Beijing Olympics. Helping Craig to lead the offense will be 2008 second-team All-American Michelle Stein. Stein led the Trojans in scoring last season with fifty-six goals. USC’s goalie situation is reminiscent of when the San Francisco 49ers had Joe Montana and Steve Young as their top two quarterbacks. The Trojans return Tumua Alae who was a first-team All-American last season as a sophomore and recruited Ilse Van der Meijden. Van der Meijden was on The Netherlands gold medal winning Olympic team in Beijing. Not only that, she had nine saves in their gold medal triumph over the USA. With those two players in the net, one can make an argument that USC has a goalie rotation that is better than what most countries can field.
UCLA is a team that has won four straight NCAA titles and finished 33-0 last year. This team was so good last spring that they stood in with the silver medal winning United States Olympic team and lost by one goal (UCLA missed a chance to tie the game with fifteen seconds left). While some of their biggest guns have graduated, the roster still includes Britanny Fullen, Katie Rulon, Tanya Gandy, Priscilla Orozco and Kelly Easterday. They are still UCLA and are still a force to be reckoned with in the pool.