2019 Women’s Water Polo Preview: Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

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Sagehens were victorious again in 2018; will it be a three-peat in 2019? Photo Courtesy: Pomona-Pitzer Athletics

Editor’s Note: The 2019 NCAA women’s water polo season officially opened on Saturday, January 12th with the ASU Invitational at Arizona State. Action opens this weekend for numerous NCAA varsity programs. Swimming World will provide previews of the seven varsity conferences—Big West, Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA), Golden Coast Conference (GCC), Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) and Western Water Polo Association (WWPA)—that will send teams to the 2019 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Tournament.

Rankings refer to the CWPA Women’s Varsity Preseason Poll that was released on January 16th.

SCIACFor the past two season, Pomona-Pitzer has had a stranglehold on SCIAC men’s and women’s water polo. The Sagehens have swept to back-to-back titles in 2016-17 and again in 2017-18. Having taken the men’s title last fall, Pomona is looking to make it three-straight seasons of total domination. Cal Lutheran made it to the finals in 2018 but the Lancers will need to do better this season if they hope to dethrone Pomona. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Whittier would have to defy expectations—and the Lancers—to get to the finals; beating the Sagehans will likely have to wait until next year.

The Regals, Athenas and Poets do appear entirely capable of holding off La Verne, Redlands, Chapman, Occidental and Caltech for the other three spots in the SCIAC postseason tournament—but, outside of Pomoma success—nothing is certain in the SCIAC

cecilIt will be hard to bet against Pomona-Pitzer in 2019. After an undefeated romp through conference play last season—stretching their SCIAC winning streak to 24, Head Coach Alex Rodriguez—whose staff earned 2018 SCIAC Coaching Staff of the Year honors—returns returns Kahea Kahaulelio (51 goals, team high 75 points) while Anna Yu chipped in 33 goals. Jocelyn Castro (team-high 60 goals—2018 SCIAC Athlete of the Year) and Morgan McCracken (46 goals, team-high 42 steals) and both graduated; Kahaulelio’s sister Nohea (23 goals) will be among the rising Sagehens called on to make up for the offensive shortfall.

Goalie Morgan Stockham is now a senior; she had 236 saves and an 8.9 GAA as part of a two-goalie rotation with Haley Crabtree (205 and a sparkling 6.5 GAA), now a sophomore. Newcomers include attackers Lucie Abele, Jessie Nesbit and Allison Wu; the reality is, if Rodriguez’s senior-laden roster plays up to expectations, the Sagehens should three-peat.

Key Matchup: UC Irvine, Friday, March 1, Pomona, CA

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For Cal Lutheran to have a shot at knocking the Sagehens off their lofty perch, Bailey Meyer will likely be a key contributor. The junior goalie had a conference-high 302 saves last season, the most in Regal history; the previous season she saved 281, now third-most on the single season list. She backstopped Cal Lutheran to 21-9 record in 2018, a 6-win improvement over the previous season.

But Head Coach Craig Rond will need more than staunch goalie play to overtake Pomona-Pitzer, who has beaten the Regals the last seven meetings, including 8-2 in the 2018 SCIAC final. Ronda has it in Victoria Rose Meek (34 goals; 56 ejections drawn) and Nikki Roed (35 goals). Kristie McGee (team-high 37 goals) has graduated, as has Sam Wulfestieg (19 goals), but the coach, now in his 16th season in program history, has an experienced squad—two thirds of his players are upper classmen. Perhaps 2019 is the year when the Regals turn the tables on their primary tormentors.

Key Matchup: Pomona-Pitzer, Thursday, March 14, Thousand Oaks, CA

CMSA one-goal loss to Cal Lutheran prevented Claremont-Mudd-Scripps from advancing to the SCIAC final for the first time since 2014, when the Athenas dropped a 7-4 decision to Pomona-Pitzer. Like everyone else in the SCIAC, Head Coach Greg Lonzo’s squad is looking up at the Sagehens; to change that dynamic he’ll need another stellar campaign from junior Aracelia Aldrete (40 goals, 34 steals) who in 2018 was a second-team All-SCIAC and honorable mention All-America. Another key performer will be Haley Gibbs; the center notched 12 goals in 2018, but will be expected to contribute more.

Missing in 2019 will be Jessica Gaffney (team-high 53 goals and 71 points) and Roxy Kiessling (35 goals, 42 steals). To compensate for this loss, there will be nine freshmen on the CMS roster this season—almost half the total—including three goalies: Ruth Efe, Jessica Salaz and Veronica Show, who will battle to replace the now-graduated Chandlyr Denaro.

Key Matchup: Cal Lutheran, Wednesday, April 3, Pomona, CA

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David Kasa came to Whittier last summer to take over both the men’s and women’s programs; last fall the Poets advanced to the semifinals of the men’s bracket before falling to CMS; Kasa would certainly like to see his first year at Whittier result in a SCIAC final. To achieve that, he’ll need his core of youngsters—the Poets have seven sophomores and three freshmen—to step up.

He does get to coach some returning impact performers. Anastacia Gonzalez (37 goals; First Team All-SCIAC) is the only senior on the squad; she’ll be joined by juniors Ana Alumbaugh, Veronica Ramirez, Marina Daroca Bazan, Emma-Louise Romero and Bianca Vera. They will need to replace Kendyl Riley (20 goals) and Lindsay Shoaff, among others, who graduated last spring.

Key newcomers include Lauren Tapia; she’ll look to unseat sophomores Lauren Mauge and Tajlia Pou as Kaza’s first choice in the Poet’s cage.

Key Matchup: Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Wednesday, April 10, Whittier, CA

lavernePomona’s Jocelyn Castro may have been the 2018 SCIAC Athlete of the Year, but the future of the conference belongs to Jassmine Kezman of La Verne. A Montebello, CA native, Kezman delivered a conference-high 79 goals as the Leopards registered an 8-16 record in Pat Beemer’s first season as head coach.

[Five Questions for Pat Beemer, La Verne Head Men’s and Women’s Water Polo Coach]

With the return of goalie Shelby Garcia (170 saves as a freshman) and a crop of seniors headlined by Emily Mena (34 goals, 19 steals), La Verne should be in good shape to move up on SCIAC opponents. Whether it’s enough to break into the conference’s upper half will depend on who besides Kezman will replace the offensive production lost to Jasmine Bustamante’s graduation (50 goals, 35 steals)

Key Matchup: Saint Francis, PA, Tuesday, March 5, La Verne, CA

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After qualifying in previous years, Redlands finished out of the SCIAC tournament last year, mainly because the conference moved to a four-team final. The last time the Bulldogs finished fourth our better in SCIAC play was in 2011, when they finished second and advanced to the NCAA tournament after besting Pomona in the finals.

To get to the SCIAC postseason this year, Head Coach Chris Gielen will need strong performances from seniors Kolby Kahahawai (32 goals) and Katelyn Jenkins (29 goals; team-high 38 points). Goalies Kelly Grosswendt and Allison Totzke will return to the Bulldog cage.  Gielen’s squad will need to figure out how to beat the teams ahead of them in the SCIAC last year; Redlands went a combined 0-8 to Pomona, Cal Lutheran, CMS and Whittier in 2018.

Key Matchup: Chapman, Saturday, March 9, Redlands, CA

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Freshman Audrey Hattori (35 goals, 30 assists, team-high 65 points) was a dynamic performer for Chapman – last season, as the Panthers fell just short of the SCIAC postseason, losing to Whittier 12-11 last April, a match that proved decisive. To make up that difference in 2019, Team Ploessel—Eric is the head coach, assisted by dad Dennis and son Bryan—will need to surround Hattori with more talent, especially now that goalie Kerry Goodspeed (157 saves; 55 steals) and Ellie Peterson (43 goals, 62 points) have graduated.

The Ploessels have brought in four freshmen to compliment a sophomore-heavy (eight) roster. Hattori’s progress may mean the difference between postseason play or golfing in May.

Key Matchup: Whittier, Wednesday, March 20, Orange, CA

occidentalJack Stabenfeldt returns for his second year as coach at Occidental, and there’s clear signs of progress—a 2-12 conference record, which includes wins over Caltech—but there’s a ways to go for Tigers polo, and it’s all up. Claudia Oppermann is the lone senior on Stabenfeldt’s underclassmen-laden squad (six freshmen, five sophomore). Juniors Lori Berberian and Monica Chernoff as well as sophomore goalie Mika O’Shea (backstopped the two wins over CalTech) will strive to beat someone besides the Beavers in the SCIAC.

Key Matchup: Redlands, Thursday, March 14, Los Angeles, CA

caltechAfter a winless campaign in 2018 (0-22), the biggest goal for Caltech is simple: get a victory. To do that, Head Coach Jon Bonafede will rely on juniors Katie Johnson (37 goals) and Gemma Takahashi (13 goals) and sophomore Mackenzie Wooten (11 goals). Sophomore Sarah Kreider (93 saves in 2018) will man the Caltech cage, and there is likely one date Bonafede will circle on the Beavers’ schedule: March 20 when they face Occidental.

Key Matchup: Connecticut College, Wednesday, March 13, Pasadena, CA