Stanford Looking Strong in Women’s NCAA Water Polo Preview

It would seem, on paper, that Stanford should have no problem in defending the titles they captured in 2011 and 2012. For starters, the Cardinal has three Olympians (senior 2-meter offense Melissa Seidemann, junior 2-meter offense Annika Dries and freshman driver Maggie Steffens), last year's tournament MVP (senior goalie Kate Baldoni) and the 2012 recipient of the Peter J. Cutino Award, given to the top female water polo player in the nation (sophomore driver Kiley Neushul).

They don't lose much–primarily Pallavi Menon, who scored the winning goal in the championship game at last year's NCAA Championship game against USC.

Besides Steffens, who deferred her freshman year to train and compete in the Olympics, Coach John Tanner can call on the services of six incoming freshmen, including drivers Skylar Dorosin, a member of the USA Water Polo Youth National Training Team; Gurpreet Sohi, who was the leading scorer on the Canadian Youth National Team last year; and Hanna Yelizarova, who has competed for Canada in both the Junior World Championships and the Pan American Games.

The USC Trojans, one would think, would be out for revenge this season. They lost in last year's championship game to Stanford and last won a title in 2010–beating the Cardinal.

The USC Trojans return Hungarian Olympian Flora Bolonyai. The junior goalie had 299 saves in the 2012 season. She was named to the NCAA All-Tournament second team and the All-MPSF second team. Coach Jovan Vavic will also welcome freshman Anni Espar, a driver, who competed for Spain at the Olympics.

Sophomore Monika Vavic, the first Trojan since 1999 to gain first-team honors as a freshman, was the Trojans' second leading scorer last year (39 points) and was first in assists. Kaleigh Gilchrist, a junior 2-meter, was the team's leading scorer with 47 goals and was named to the second team along with Bolonyai. Earning honorable mention honors were Dominique Sardo, a senior driver, and Colleen O'Donnell, a junior 2-meter.

The Trojans will lose Nadia Dan, who was fourth on the team with 25 goals (107 career), as well as Kara-Leigh Huse and Morgan Vickers to graduation.
Besides Espar, incoming freshmen for the Trojans include Alegra Hueso (goalie), Natalie Lavinsky (driver) and Courtney Walters (2-meter), as well as Australian Jayde Appel (2-meter).

The UCLA Bruins open this year's season with three weekends away from home–starting out with the Michigan Invitational Jan. 19-20, then the Santa Barbara Invitational the following weekend and winding up with the Stanford Invitational Feb. 2-3. That should give Coach Brandon Brooks an idea of how his team will perform the remainder of the season, leading up to the championships.

The Bruins lost some key players to graduation. K.K. Clark scored 58 goals last season (169 career), including a 5-goal game against UC Irvine. She was named to the NCAA first team All-America squad. Sarah Orozco scored 27 goals in 2012 (84 career) and was a second-team All-American. Hannah Sebenaler put the ball in the net 21 times (42 career). Goalie Caitlin Dement saved 250 shots this season with a 5.60 goals against average.

Providing much-needed leadership will be Becca Dorst, a junior utility player, who is the top returning scorer from last year's squad with 27 goals. Another utility player, senior Emily Greenwood, earned second-team All-America recognition last season.

UCLA's incoming freshman class includes seven members of the USA Junior National program and one from the Canadian Junior National Team. Four of them–Rachel Fattal, Madison McLaren, Alex Musselman and Alys Williams–earned All-CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) Southern Sectional Division first-team honors.

This season's Anteater squad looks to build on its fourth-place finish from last year's tournament. They will begin with appearances in the UC Santa Barbara, CBU Lancer and UCSD Triton Invitationals. Right after that, on Feb. 15, UCI will take on the team that spoiled their bid for third place at last year's tournament–the UCLA Bruins, in Westwood, Calif.

Katie Croghan, an All Big West first team selection with 38 goals and 28 assists last year, and Amy Riddering, a center who scored 13 goals and three assists, have graduated. The Anteaters will also be redshirting Annika Bergesen, Jessy Cardey and Danielle Warde. Bergesen scored 20 goals and had 10 assists. Carday was the team leader with 74 goals and was named the Big West Player of the Year and Tournament MVP, as well as making the NCAA Tournament first team. Warde was an All-Big West first team selection.

Coach Dan Klatt will be able to coach his younger sister, center Kelsey Klatt, for one more season. The senior was selected to the All-Big West first team and the NCAA All-Tournament second team, scored 31 goals and 29 assists in 2012. Hannah Carden, a junior attacker, scored 51 goals in her sophomore season and was a Big West honorable mention choice.

The Anteaters recruited a very talented freshman class this season, including Nicole Schmidt, a member of the Puerto Rico junior national team since 2008 and a participant in last year's Pan American Games in Quebec, Canada. Others coming on board who can make an impact include Emily Carlson, Tess de Lange, Hannah Lancaster, McKenna Mitchell, Annika Nelson, Cambria Shockley, Ambyr Stewart and Kelsey Thornton.

Winning the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) title for the ninth time since 2001 earned the Lions the right to compete at the NCAA women's water polo tournament, finishing fifth. Coach Kyle Witt lost five members of that team to graduation. Among them: Elise Ponce, the WWPA tournament's MVP and first team-all conference; and Casey Flacks, the team's captain and WWPA Player of the Year.

Driver Alexandra Honny returns for her junior season. She scored an amazing 88 goals last year and was named to the WWPA first-team tournament squad. Senior driver Erin Manke made the WWPA honorable mention team. Earning spots on the all-freshman team were utility Mackenzie Beck and driver Laura Lopez.

To fill the void left by graduation, Witt recruited nine players–goalies Grace Fowler and Claire Wright; 2-meters Erin Byrne and Ashlynn Nelson; utility players Bridgette Alvarez, Ivana Castro and Megan Linder; and drivers Danielle Johnson and Kingsley Hill. It is one of the largest classes in LMU history, and Coach Witt believes several of them can make an impact in their freshman seasons.

Princeton University punched its ticket to the 2012 championships after capturing the Eastern Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) title. It marked the Tigers' first conference title since 2000, and the first time the team went to the NCAA Championships.

Coach Luis Nicolao will look to a trio of seniors to lead the team. Named as tri-captains were left attacker Rachele Gyorfly (11 goals, 18 assists), center Saranna Soroka (41 goals, 7 assists) and attacker Brittany Zwirner (30 goals, 8 assists).

Junior utility player Katie Rigler, who scored a team leading 76 goals last year, was the Eastern Championship MVP and on the NCAA All-Tournament second team. Also returning will be utility players Camille Hooks and Molly McBee. Hooks, a sophomore, was named to the Eastern Championship Tournament first team; McBee, a junior, earned her way to an All Southern first team berth.

Graduating last year were Kristen Ward, a second team All-Southern and Eastern Championship All-Tournament second team goalie; Audrey Zak, a co-captain who earned second-team nods on both the All-South and Eastern Championship teams; and Katlin Poladian, back-up goalie to Ward. To fill in their spots, Princeton recruited goalie Ashleigh Johnson plus utility Kimi Klein and Diana Murphy.

The Iona Gaels topped the field at the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) for the second straight year, enabling them to travel to the NCAA Championships in San Diego, Calif.

Cecilia Leonard's graduation left a huge hole in Iona's roster to fill. The utility player was the all-time Gaels' scorer with three 100-plus point seasons, including 63 goals and 62 assists in 2012. She was selected to both the first team All-MAAC and the MAAC championship all-star tournament team. Also graduating were Mackenzie Mone, a member of the second-team All-MAAC squad after having her third straight 90+-point season (74 goals and 20 assists last year) and Caitlin McGregor, who scored 25 points.

Alyssa Turza, the lone senior on this year's team, was named last year's MAAC Championship Meet Most Outstanding Performer, scoring a total of 76 points during the season (65 goals and 11 assists). The utility player scored four goals in the MAAC championship game. Last year's leading scorer, junior 2-meter Amy Olsen, returns as well. She posted a total of 98 points (83 goals, 15 assists) and was named to the first-team All-MAAC squad.

Seven freshman join the Gaels this year: utility players Dana Andrea, Sara Bortz, Emma Martinus, Cassidy O'Connell and Taylor Silva; 2-meter Rebecca Mathews; and 2-meter/driver Meghan Mahoney.

The Sagehens of Pomona-Pitzer College found themselves in the 2012 NCAA women's water polo tournament for the fourth time in the past six years when they captured the SCIAC Conference championship in a sudden death win against Redlands. They lose two stars from that team to graduation. Annie Oxborough-Yankus was named the ACWPC Division 3 Co-Player of the Year, as well as the SCIAC Conference Player of the Year. Perri Hopkins was a first-team Division III All-American in 2011.

Coach Alex Rodriguez welcomes back sophomore Mahalia Prater-Fahey, who scored the winning goal in the sudden-death SCIAC championship match and racked up 46 goals last season; senior goalie Sarah Tuggy, who was a first-team ACWPC-All American; sophomore utility Alyssa Woodward, last year's SCIAC Newcomer of the Year and first team All-SCIAC Conference and ACWPC Division 3; and Sarah Westcott, who scored 47 goals and made the honorable mention ACWPC team.

Three freshmen join the squad this year: attackers Alana Friedman and Katy Schafer, plus utility Megan Snow.

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