CWPA Top 25: Conference Play Is Now Primary in NCAA Women’s Water Polo

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UCI's Tara Prentice may be the country's best player in 2020. Photo Courtesy: The Big West

Almost two months into the NCAA varsity women’s water polo season, individual conference play moves front and center. The six conferences that will send teams to the national championship—The Big West, the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA), the Golden Coast Conference (GCC), the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) and the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA)—now focus on the process of post-season seeding based upon regular season results. Tournament winners  will each earn an automatic NCAA berth; three at-large berths will also be decided by a selection committee.

[Almost a Wrap! 2020 Swimming World Women’s Water Polo Conference Previews Are Live]

The CWPA Top-25 was virtually unchanged from last week, with the only difference being Cal State East Bay move into the poll for the first time this season.

#1 USC (12-1; 1-0 MPSF); in what may turn out to be a game of revolving chairs among the top three teams in the country, last week the Trojans supplanted the Cardinal as the nation’s top team, then picked up their first conference win, going on the road to beat San Jose State 15-11. The biggest key to USC’s success thus far is the emergence of Holly Parker as Head Coach Marko Pintaric’s top goalie. This weekend for the Trojans? Rest up for a March 14 conference match with Cal.

#2 (T) Stanford (14-1); After a deflating loss to USC in the Kalbus Invite, the Cardinal quickly righted the ship, with wins last weekend over UC San Diego and Long Island University. Sunday presents their first conference test of 2020, as Stanford welcomed a revitalized Arizona State to Avery Aquatic Center. Is it parity due to an Olympic year that the Sun Devils—who have never bested the Cardinals in 23 attempts—have a shot at an upset?

#2 (T) UCLA (18-2; 2-0 MPSF); with a core of youngsters brought in since taking the reins of the women’s program in 2018, Bruin Head Coach Adam Wright may be in a better position than his MPSF peers. UCLA has been out of the title picture since a brutal loss to Stanford in the 2017 final, so expectations were lower during Wright’s first two years. Now, with freshman Abbi Hill and sophomores Val Ayala and Ava Johnson, he has a core that may surprise in the coming months. They passed their first big conference test, handily beating Cal 11-5 on Saturday . Sunday it’s a visit to Pacific and a contest against the sinking Tigers.

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UCLA’s Val Ayala. Photo Courtesy: Minette Rubin

#4 Hawai’i (11-2); two losses in their final two matches put the Rainbow Wahine a program-best fourth at the Kalbus Invitational. In those loses, they played Stanford tough but could not keep up with UCLA in the fourth period of a 10-5 decision; the goal now for Head Coach Maureen Cole is to get ready for The Big West season; Hawai’i opens conference play next weekend with a trip to La Jolla and Big West newcomer UC San Diego.

5 UC Irvine (14-5; 1-0 Big West); in Tara Prentice, the Anteaters may have the country’s top player this season. The senior from Temecula, California has 53 goals in 18 matches and could top the century mark in her final season in Irvine. More pressing than stats though was a road match-up Saturday against Big West rival UC Davis—a 14-8 win—then a rematch against Cal on Sunday; UCI has split two previous matches against the Golden Bears this season.

#6 Arizona State (12-4; 1-0 MPSF); outside of a loss to UC Irvine in the fifth-place match of the Kalbus Invite, Sun Devil Head Coach Todd Clapper has to be pleased with his team’s performance thus far. Two losses to Hawai’i and a stumble against UCLA are the only other blemishes on ASU’s 2020 record. A decisive MPSF win on Saturday against San Jose State is likely to be followed by a loss Sunday to conference rival Stanford at Avery A respectable margin would be good; a win over the Cardinal would turn the MPSF on its collective head.

#7 Michigan (11-8); just when it appeared that the Wolverines were falling behind the best of the West, a huge win over Cal in the Kalbus Invite ignited their season. Five straight wins—including a sweep of four opponents in Ann Arbor last weekend—gives Head Coach Marcelo Leonardi’s squad momentum going into March. Unfortunately, they’ll have to wait to pick things up; Michigan won’t play again until a March 21 clash with former CWPA rival Indiana in Indianapolis.

#8 (T) Cal-Berkeley (11-6; 0-1 MPSF); to quote Yogi Berra, the noted philosopher, “It gets late early around here!” So it is for Head Coach Coralie Simmons’ team; a Saturday loss to UCLA indicates that the Golden Bears can’t keep up with the MPSF’s best—and will be scrapping with conference foe Arizona State or a Big West squad for the final NCAA at-large bid. Simmons, a former Bruin star under Adam Krikorian, is known as a big-time performer. Perhaps her newcomers have yet to absorb their coach’s lessons.

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Photo Courtesy: Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center

#8 (T) UC Santa Barbara (12-8; 0-1 GCC); the Gauchos picked up a couple of wins Friday over DIII programs Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer—a welcome warm-up after being idle for two weeks. Saturday was a much bigger test, as Cal-State Northridge (CSUN) comes to Santa Barbara in UCSB’s first conference match of 2020. A 9-8 overtime win against a tough Matador team demonstrates the Gauchos are in the mix for top GCC honors.

#10 UC San Diego (13-7; 0-1 Big West); the Tritons, with wins over Cal and UC Santa Barbara, and a narrow loss to UCLA, have shown they’re worthy of a Top-Ten ranking. Now, UCSD—in its first season of Big West play–must prove it belongs in the conference. That started Saturday with a 6-4 loss to Big West foe Long Beach.

#11 Fresno State (8-7); the Bulldogs had righted their ship—five straight wins including victories over Pacific and UC Davis. Next up is conference play on March 27 and 28, against GCC foes Cal Baptist and San Diego State. Goalie—an issue for Head Coach Natalie Benson going into the season—seems to be resolving itself. Thus far freshman Paula Nieto Jasny has gotten the bulk of playing time in the Bulldog cage, delivering a goals against average under 10.

#12 Loyola Marymount (12-6); right now, there are three contenders for the GCC title; the Bulldogs, the Aztecs of San Diego State and the Lions of LMU. After a weekend off, Head Coach Kyle Witt’s squad got back in the water Friday at the Claremont Convergence, with wins against Cal State Monterey Bay and La Salle from Philadelphia on Friday and against Saint Francis University—another Pennsylvania school—and Concordia on Saturday. Sunday it’s rest.

#13 San Jose State (5-12; 0-3 MPSF); the Spartans have been far more competitive than their record indicates, including a four-goal loss to USC last week. Saturday’s match-up against Arizona State offered a chance for SJSU to escape the MPSF cellar; the Spartans upset the Sun Devils last year in the regular season. Not this time; it’s a 14-7 loss, the Spartans fourth straight.

BLOOMINGTON, IN - FEBRUARY 20, 2019 - Driver Juli Hilovsky #2 of the Indiana Hoosiers during the match between the Indiana Hoosiers and the McKendree Bearcats at Counsilman-Billingsley Aquatic Center in Bloomington, IN. Photo By Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics

Indiana’s Tina Doherty (48 goals). Photo Courtesy: Missy Minear/Indiana Athletics

#14 Indiana (12-5); if UC San Diego is the biggest surprise so far this season, Indiana is a close second. A year after a 6-17 campaign, the Hoosiers are riding an nine-game winning streak and—with wins Saturday against DII opponent Mercyhurst and DIII Cal Lutheran—just doubled their 2019 win total. A match Saturday against McKendree should make it ten in a row before a trip next week to Los Angeles for MPSF matches against UCLA and USC.

#15 Long Beach State (12-6; 1-0); with a Big West match at home Saturday against UC San Diego, the 49ers opened conference play with a win over a conference newcomer. They should pad their win total next weekend as they’ll face six-straight Eastern opponents before a crucial road match-up against Hawai’i on March 21.

#16 San Diego State (9-9; 3-0 GCC); offense has be a challenge for the Aztec this season, but the key takeaway so far is a 3-0 in conference play, including wins over Santa Clara on Friday and Pacific on Saturday, putting SDSU at the top of the GCC standings. More good news was the hiring this week of former Aztec Alyssa Diacono to lead a mew men’s and women’s water polo program at Mount St. Mary’s.

[Alyssa Diacono to Lead New Men’s, Women’s Water Polo Program at Mount St. Mary’s]

#17 Harvard (11-2); the Crimson, hosting their own invitational this weekend, absorbed only their second loss of the season when they dropped a 12-11 decision on Saturday to Marist. Harvard has a match Sunday in Cambridge against Cal State East Bay, then travels West next weekend for their season’s toughest stretch, with CSUN, UC San Diego, Hawai’i, Whittier and Pomona-Pitzer.

#18 UC Davis (8-12; 0-1 Big West); after opening the season ranked 10th , losses in nine of their past 11 games have sent the Aggies plummeting in the polls. UC Irvine helped pile on Saturday, beating UC Davis 14-8 in the first Big West match-up of the season for either team. The last time UCD beat it’s fellow UC school was 2018.

#19 Wagner (13-5; 2-0 MAAC); when the Seahawks enter conference play, the question becomes: when will a MAAC school stop them? No one has over a span of five years / 59 matches; this weekend and next they compete against non-conference opponents. The biggest hurdle at the Harvard Invite is Bucknell on Sunday; then it’s off to San Diego for another match against the Bison, then host San Diego State, Long Beach State and Hawai’i.

#20 Princeton (8-3; 1-0 CWPA); a lite schedule early in the season—UCLA has played twice as many matches—means the pace picks up in March, when the Tigers play 15 matches. But, not until next weekend at the Aztec Invitational in San Diego; besides Villanova, Princeton will face CSUN, UC San Diego and Hawai’i—a good way to kickstart play for the Tigers.

#21 Cal State Northridge (13-6; 0-2 GCC); the Matadors have enjoyed a great start to their season, but the reality is—after an 8-9 OT loss to UC Santa Barbara—they are already 0-2 in Big West play. What’s frustrating is that goalie Meghan Lopez stopped 17 Gaucho attempts, CSUN rallied from a one-goal deficit with 25 second remaining in regulation, and they still lost.

#22 Bucknell (14-3); the Bison have a lot of wins, but it’s the losses that are most instructive, in particular the 15-6 non-conference loss to Michigan last weekend in Ann Arbor. Between them, Ally Furano (78 goals) and Kali Hyham (55 goals) have more than half of Bucknell’s total this season; against the Wolverines they scored four times. A rematch Sunday in Cambridge against Wagner—who beat them a month ago in Lewisburg—will be a good measuring stick for the Bison.

#23 Pacific (3-12; 1-1 GCC); on Friday, the Tigers broke their 10-match losing streak, beating GCC foe Azusa Pacific. Saturday saw them drop an 11-9 decision to San Diego State, another conference rival. Sunday is a match against UCLA; it’s almost certain that Pacific will lose for the 12th time in the last 13 matches.

#24 Marist (5-12); a big win over a higher-ranked Harvard on Saturday has to buoy a Red Foxes program that has reached for the sky this season. So far in 2020, Head Coach Chris Vidale’s squad has played 12 higher-ranked opponents. Ideally, this will prepare them for a run to a MAAC title; the wrinkle is that they’ve already lost to Wagner this season for the 15th straight time; April 18—when the two teams meet in Providence for a MAAC contest—looms large.

#25 Cal State East Bay (5-8; 2-0 WWPA); the Pioneers break into the Top-25 for the first time this season, thanks to three wins last weekend at the Tina Finali Invitational. Favored to take the WWPA title, CSEB has already won conference matches against Fresno Pacific and Sonoma State. Losses Saturday to Bucknell and Wagner have no bearing on whether the Pioneers will qualify for NCAAs; only conference wins do.

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1 comment

  1. avatar
    Robert Johnson

    Prentice is a good shooter maybe she’s offensive player of the year so far for the country but here’s the big question does she play well at both ends of the pool

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