The CWPA Top 25 Varsity Poll Reveals Early Volatility in 2020 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Season

May 11, 2019; Avery Aquatic Center, Palo Alto, CA, USA; Collegiate Women's Water Polo: NCAA Semi Finals: UCLA Bruins vs Stanford Cardinals; Stanford Goalkeeper Emalia Eichelberger reaches to make the save Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne
Stanford's Emalia Eichelberger returns in 2020 to defend the Cardinal's NCAA title. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Play in the 2020 NCAA women’s varsity started last week with were early season upsets. UCLA, Cal and Michigan lost and felt it in the CWPA Top 25 varsity rankings. A number of schools begin play this weekend, while others are in the midst of taxing non-conference schedules in preparation for conference play.

USC, the poll’s top-ranked squad, will open play at Cal Baptist, along with Arizona State, Indiana, Harvard, Long Beach State, San Diego State and Wagner.

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

#1 University of Southern California; on Saturday the Trojans open their season as favorites for a sixth NCAA title—in an Olympic year. USC also won in 2016 (Rio Olympics) and were finalist in 2012 (London) and 2008 (Beijing)—oh, and won in 2004 (Greece). Or course, those Trojans were coached by Jovan Vavic; this is now Marko Pintaric’s team, and they will rise and fall with their new head coach. To tip off the season, USC travels Saturday to Riverside, California to face two Golden Coast Conference teams; host Cal Baptist, which was 15-18 in 2019 and has not beaten the Trojans in nine attempts; and Concordia—9-15 last season—which has never won a GCC conference game. USC will again be on top next week.

#2 Stanford (2-0); pretty ho-hum wins over #18 San Jose State and Sonoma State. Top scorers for were sophomore Madison Stamen (6 goals)—who also got off to a quick start in 2019—and freshman Katie Lyons (5 goals). Last weekend Emalia Eichelberger—goalie for the 2019 NCAA title-winners—played sparingly in goal; she’ll see more action this weekend as the Cardinal take on #12 UC Davis, #13 Fresno State and #3 UC Irvine at Cal Cup in Berkeley.

#3UC Irvine (2-0); the Anteaters were fifth last week; now they’re third. The last time they were ranked this high was… never! With wins over Cal and Michigan, it appears that Head Coach Dan Klatt’s squad is the new “it” team in NCAA polo. This weekend will demonstrate just how good UCI is; the Anteaters face four ranked teams in the Cal Cup, including #2 Stanford and and a rematch with now #6 Cal-Berkeley.

#4 Hawai’i (3-0); Head Coach Maureen Cole’s side got off to a fast start at home, with wins over three ranked opponents; Loyola Marymount, Fresno State and Marist. The Rainbow Wahine are off until next weekend, when they travel to Arizona State for the Cross-Conference Challenge.

[2020 Swimming World Women’s Water Polo Previews: Big West Conference]

#5 UCLA (4-1); kind of a head-scratcher that the Bruins dropped an early season match to UC Santa Barbara—a loss which dropped them down from a tie for #2. Maybe it was the Gauchos playing at home. Or maybe there’s still a way to go for Head Coach Adam Wright’s rebuild (more like prepping for another NCAA title). Good news for polo fans; one of the most storied teams in intercollegiate water polo history is traveling to Ann Arbor for the Michigan Invitational. While there, the Bruins will face Pacific, Marist, Wagner and host Michigan. Should be a treat for all except UCLA’s opponents.

#6 Cal-Berkeley (3-2); it’s the UC San Diego loss from last Sunday that has to bother Cal Head Coach Coralie Simmons. It’s one thing to lose to UC Irvine; it’s another to get tripped up in overtime by a squad in it’s first season as a DI program. The Golden Bears host five ranked teams this weekend; they’ll play UC Irvine, UC Davis and San Jose State—and play in an exhibition against MPSF rival Stanford.

#7 Michigan (2-2); the Wolverines are doing things a bit differently; instead of camping out in California, they’re inviting some top West Coast teams out to Canham Natatorium. All seven teams in Ann Arbor—including Michigan—are ranked: #23 Indiana, #24 (T) Marist, #11 Pacific, #5 UCLA, #9 UC Santa Barbara and #21 Wagner. It’s a great showcase for Head Coach Marcelo Leonardi’s program, which is consistently the top squad from outside California. With the exception perhaps of the Bruins, Big Blue’s games this weekend, against UCSB, Pacific and Wagner, are winnable.

#8 UC San Diego (3-1); the Tritons are new to Division I, but they act like they’ve been there before. When you hold the nation’s # 2 team (UCLA) to eight goals in your opener and then knock off #4 Cal in sudden death overtime, you make noise. Can they keep it up? Two games Saturday against DIII power Pomona-Pitzer and Concordia should keep UCSD in the Top 10.

[Here We Go Again; Upsets Aplenty on First Full Weekend of NCAA Women’s Water Polo Season]

#9 UC Santa Barbara (3-2); another big water polo win for the Gauchos; this time by their women over Cal. It’s on to Michigan for the Invite; there’s four matches this weekend waiting for Head Coach Serela Kay’s team: Indiana, Marist, Wagner and a good battle with the host Wolverines.

ASU’s Todd Clapper. Photo Courtesy: Arizona State Athletics

#10 Arizona State; an easy start for the Sun Devils—they have two games against Ottawa, a brand-new program that doesn’t have a conference and is not yet playing NCAA polo; the Spirit are an NAIA school. The season starts in earnest for Head Coach Todd Clapper’s team next weekend with the Cross Conference Challenge.

#11 Pacific (1-0); are these the paper Tigers? Without their best players—either preparing for the Olympics or red-shirted—it’s going to be hard for Pacific to compete with the nation’s best. They barely beat Sonoma State last week, and it’s on to Michigan for four matches with Indiana, Marist, Michigan and UCLA. A trip like this would typically yield three wins; now Head Coach James Graham may be satisfied with two.

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

#12 UC Davis (2-0); season-opening wins against unranked teams Santa Clara and Fresno Pacific; the Aggies travel down the coast for the Cal Cup this weekend for matches against Stanford, Cal, Fresno State and San Jose State.

#13 Fresno State (1-1); a season opening split in Honolulu—and an exhibition win over GCC rival Loyola Marymount—was a good lead in to this weekend. The Bulldogs will also be at the Cal Cup and facing four tough teams: Stanford, UC Irvine, Cal and San Jose State.

#14 (T) Princeton; the Tigers start next weekend in Tempe, Arizona at the ASU Cross Conference Challenge. They’ll open against Saturday against two unranked opponents—Cal State East Bay and Sonoma State—then take on Hawai’i and host Arizona State.

#14 (T) Long Beach State; the 49ers open this weekend at their own tournament, the Beach Invite, on Saturday with three matches: against Azusa Pacific, La Verne and San Diego State.

#16 Loyola Marymount (1-1); The Rainbow Invitational was an early season measure for an LMU program that aspires to GCC success in 2020. A split against host Hawai’i and Marist was a backdrop to an exhibition against GCC rival Fresno State. Backstopping the Lions in the 8-6 loss was freshman Tara DeBrabander; might this suggest something about LMU’s three-goalie competition?

#17 Harvard; the Crimson will open play this Saturday at Blodgett Pool against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) squads Villanova and Iona.

#18 San Jose State (1-2); the Spartans look to live up to their name, especially early in the season. They’ve already played against Stanford and Cal; this weekend they will play UC Irvine, UC Davis, Fresno State and Cal again. That’s quite a heavy load for any coach to manage, and perhaps daunting for one in their first year. But, Beth Harberts has been on the SJSU coaching staff since 2015; she’s a 2007 graduate and knows the Spartans inside and out.

wolohan-princeton-02-sep19

Wagner’s Ciaran Wolohan. Photo Courtesy: Nicole Maloney

#19 California State Northridge (2-2); a narrow one-goal loss to Michigan suggests the Matadors will be quite good this season. Up next are matches Saturday in Long Beach against Asuza Pacific—a rematch from a CSUN win last week—and DIII program La Verne.

#20 San Diego State; the Aztecs kick off their season Saturday, also at the Beach Invitational in Long Beach. They’ll play the host 49ers—a strong opening season test—and La Verne.

#21 Wagner; the Seahawks women open their first season under Ciaran Wolohan. There are no gimmies this weekend; Wagner will face three Top Ten teams—UCLA, Michigan and UC Santa Barbara—as well as #23 Indiana.

#22 Bucknell; the Bison are off for one more weekend and will start next Saturday at the Bruno Classic in Providence.

#23 Indiana; Rookie Head Coach Taylor Dotson begins her career as Hoosier head coach this weekend in Ann Arbor. It’s going to be a bumpy ride; matches against Pacific, UC Santa Barbara, Marist and Wagner—where she was an assistant under former Seahawk Head Coach Chris Radmonovich (2015-17).

#24 (T) Azusa Pacific (1-1); this could be a breakthrough season for the Cougars; matches in Long Beach against CSUN and the host 49ers will help define how far Azusa Pacific will go in 2020.

#24 (T) Marist (0-3); a tough start in Hawai’i could get uglier in Ann Arbor; the Red Foxes will face two Top Ten foes—UCLA and UCSB—as well as Pacific and Indiana.