2020 Swimming World Women’s Water Polo Previews: Golden Coast Conference

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In an Olympic year, it appears unlikely that Pacific—2019 GCC champs—will be celebrating a title this season. Photo Courtesy: Pacific Athletics

Outside of the mighty Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), the Golden Coast Conference has arguably the nation’s strongest women’s water polo teams. But the past three years, the GCC has been dominated solely by one team—Pacific—which since 2017 has 21 straight conference wins and three GCC titles (2017 – 2019).

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That is certain to change in 2020. With Kyra Christmas, the Tigers’ superb lefty and the 2018, 2019 GCC Player of the Year in training with the Canadian Olympic team, the GCC is going to be wide open. This opens up opportunities for contenders Fresno State, Loyola Marymount and San Diego State—and perhaps a rising Azusa Pacific. Following is Swimming World’s expected order of finish in the GCC for 2020.

[CWPA’s Preseason Women’s Water Polo Poll is Out – And Swimming World Has Lots to Say About It]

Team Capsules:

LMULoyola Marymount Head Coach Kyle Witt had the best offense in the GCC last year, with 340 goals. The Lions featured three of the top four scorers last year in the GCC. Two of them—Morgan Molloy (63 goals) and Hana Vilanova (59 goals)—earned All-American honors; they graduated. A couple of transfers from two different St. Francis campuses will make Lions’ offense that much more potent. Marialena Seletopoulou (79 goals; 2019 GCC Newcomer of the Year) came last year from St. Francis in Pennsylvania. Kelsey Snelgar (226 goals in two seasons) moves from St. Francis Brooklyn for this season. The biggest blow may be the graduation of starting goalkeeper Sky Flores, who registered 249 saves and a 8.18 goals against average and was part of the 2019 All-GCC First-Team. To replace Flores, Witt has three goalies to choose from; Elizabeth Bradley, a sophomore, and two freshmen: Madison Davis and Tara DeBrabander.

Key Match-Up: Pacific, March 27, Los Angeles, CA

pacificThe defending champion Tigers of Pacific will need to replace Christmas’ 71 goals, 30 assists as well as the output of Viktoria Szmodics (46 goals, 43 assists) who graduated. What’s more, starting goalie Clara Vulpisi—an All-GCC Honorable Mention and All-GCC Freshman selection—is also with the Canadian Olympic squad. Samantha Pfaff is the only goalie on the Pacific roster; she has 21 appearances over three years in Stockton. The Tigers don’t have enough depth, and that left Tiger Head Coach James Graham with a dilemma; should he go for the gold in a season when other rivals are also dealing with defections? Or, wait until next year. It’s the latter; Graham has red-shirted seniors Mariana Duarte (44 G, 29 A), Viktoria Tamas (24 G, 24 A, 28 steals), and Truly Dorland, waiting for Christmas and Vulpisi to return. Sophomores Toula Falvey (15 goals) and Brianna Utas (15 goals, 15 steals)—another Canadian national team prospect—will be called upon to step up for the Tigers in 2020.

Key Match-Up: Michigan, January 26, Ann Arbor, MI

fsu-logoIn two years, Head Coach Natalie Benson—a former Olympian—has moved Fresno State from seven wins in 2018 to 14 wins last season. The Bulldogs return Emily Nicholson (54 goals, 96 drawn exclusions) who was a 2019 All-GCC First Team selection. Callie Woodruff (54 goals, 16 assists) earned All-GCC Second Team honors. Daphne Guevremont (33 goals, 26 assists, 31 steals and 14 field blocks) was a GCC All-Freshman Team selection. Goalie is a concern. Benson returns Madelynn Garcia (15 appearances in 2019) and has brought in Paula Nieto Jasny, one-time Spanish junior national team member, as a freshman; both will compete for the top spot between the Fresno State pipes. The Bulldogs have gone 7-7 over two seasons of conference play.

Key Match-Up: Loyola Marymount, April 10, Fresno, CA

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Four members of the 2019 San Diego State water polo team received all-GCC honors. Emily Bennett (44 goals, 30 assists, 72 steals, 71 ejections drawn) was a first-team selection, senior Shelby Kraft (37 goals, 32 steals) and Sydney Hurst (17 goals, 48 ejections drawn) made the all-freshman team. Hannah Carrillo (42 goals, 41 assists, 35 ejections drawn) and Maura Cantoni (257 saves) were named to the second-team; both are now graduated. Aztec Head Coach Carin Crawford brought in five freshmen; Kori Bento, who played for SET and Paige Goemer, a lefty from Foothill High School, will likely have an impact this season. With a 5-2 conference record in 2019, the Aztecs finished fourth in the GCC tournament to Fresno State.

Key Match-Up: UC San Diego, April 3, La Jolla, CA

apu-logoAzusa Pacific had a break-out season in 2019. The Cougars, who registered a program record 19 wins, finished fifth in the GCC, the program’s best-ever finish. Mar Pastor Alvarez (34 goals. 77 exclusions drawn; over 200 exclusions drawn)—now graduated—was named to the GCC second-team, Mireia Tutusaus Alcaraz (36 goals, 29 assists) led the team in scoring; she will team with sophomore Milena Guzmán Ortiz (45 goals, 29 steals, GCC honorable mention and a GCC All-Freshmen Team) as leading scorers for Head Coach Julie Snodgrass. With 225 saves, Olivia Lott was the GCC’s number three goalie and is one of the conference’s most experienced. Six of the Cougars 17 players are freshmen; how they perform in 2020 will determine if Azusa Pacific will break into the upper half of the GCC.

Key Match-Up: Fresno State, February 5, Fresno, CA

cal-baptistCal Baptist will host the 2020 GCC Tournament. If the Lancers are to go deep into competition in their own pool, it will be behind junior Kira O’Donell (55 goals, 27 assists, 55 exclusions drawn; All-GCC Honorable Mention), Grace Ramirez (220 saves; 10.71 GAA; All-GCC First Team honors) and Jamie Hutton (32 goals, 17 assists, All-GCC Freshman). Head Coach Jonathan Miller will have to make due without Lizette Perez (54 goals, 36 assists, 51 exclusions drawn; All-GCC First Team honors) who graduated in 2019. Vicky Ochoa, a red-shirt sophomore 2M player, returns from injury to replace Madison Gonzalez (22 goals 22 exclusions drawn; graduated last May); she contributed 22 goals and 35 ejections drawn in 2018.

Key Match-Up: Redlands, February 7, Riverside, CA

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Lydia Dadd returns for her senior year; she had 166 saves last season for Santa Clara Head Coach Keith Wilbur. Hailey Eberle (34 goals, 35 assists, 27 steals) and Maggie Oys (19 goals 21 assists, 24 exclusions drawn) also returns. They will look to replace Annie Eldredge (30 goals, 47 assists) and Hannah Buck (45 goals, 66 exclusions drawn; 2019 All-Golden Coast Conference second team) both of whom graduated. For 2020, Wilbur has recruited the largest roster (25 players) in school history, including six newcomers, headlined by Abby Fleming (Miramonte High School) and Malena Nguyen (Mountain View High School). The past two years, the Broncos have gone 2-12 in conference play, with both wins over Concordia.

Key Match-Up: Cal Baptist, March 12, Santa Clara, CA

concordia-logoConcordia; finished last in the GCC for the fourth season under Head Coach Dreason Barry, who has never won a conference game (0-27). The Eagles are trending in the right direction; the nine wins in 2019 are the most under Barry, and a narrow loss to Santa Clara in the GCC Tournament suggest a narrow of the gap with the Broncos. Sophomore Madison Ravelo (43 goals, 17 assists, 54 exclusions drawn, All-GCC Honorable Mention) was Second Team DII All-American by the ACWPC. She will join with seniors Hanna Jordan (18 goals, 14 assists) and Shannon Graham (24 goals, 33 exclusions drawn). Three freshmen are headlined by Billie Nel from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Key Match-Up: Santa Clara, March 14, Santa Clara, CA

Outlook:

A conference that has been dominated by one team for the past three years is now wide open; as was demonstrated by a narrow opening season win against Sonoma State, the 2020 Pacific squad is not the Tigers of years past. Graham’s bold move to red-shirt his top seniors opens the conference up for others to succeed. The chief contender is Loyola Marymount, with a storied history of success in NCAA tournament play; they remain the only non-MPSF team ever to advance to an NCAA final (2004) and as recently as 2015 were GCC champions. The addition of yet another scorer in Snelgar can only help the Lions chances; it’s in goal where the Lions are weakest. The same is true of Fresno State, which in Year Three has a huge opening to step up; bringing in Jasny is Benson’s ploy to position her team for another move up. It may work; the biggest threat to these top three contenders are the Aztecs and their savvy coach, Crawford, whose teams are always competitive in GCC play but with only one title (2016) to show for their efforts. San Diego State has five goalies on their roster; of those five, only sophomore Zoe Morgan has any experience (two appearances in 2019).

Azusa Pacific, Cal Baptist, and Santa Clara will look to improve on 2019 results; the biggest question for Concordia’s Barry is when will they win a conference match? If the race for the top of the GCC is wide opening, the question is, who will end up at the bottom of the conference in 2020? For Barry’s and Concordia’s sake, the hope is that the Eagles will rise up for the first time in five years of GCC competition.

GCC conference play will be fully underway by mid-March; the biggest weekend of conference play is March 27-28, with six GCC matches, headlined by Pacific versus LMU and Fresno State against San Diego State. The conference tournament will take place April 24-26 at the Lancer Aquatic Center in Riverside, CA. The conference winner will gain an automatic berth to the 2020 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Tournament, to be held May 8 – 10 at the University of Pacific in Stockton, CA.

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