LIU Plays First Ever Match, Siena’s Williams Get First Win at 2020 Bruno Women’s Water Polo Classic at Brown

LIU Head Coach Gabby Juarez addresses her team prior to their first-ever match. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

PROVIDENCE, RI. Saturday at the Kathryn Graham Aquatics Center on the Brown University campus was a day of firsts for women’s NCAA varsity water polo.

Long Island University, primarily known for its decades-long success in men’s basketball as the Blackbirds, played its first-ever women’s polo match. Now known as the Sharks, LIU had the very first goal in it’s new program history scored by Alejandra Aranguren at 3:48 of the second period in a match against host Brown. Aranguren’s goal tied the score at 1-1 as the young Sharks—featuring 11 freshmen—held the Bears to three goals in a first half that saw them trailing 3-1. A 5-2 third period burst put the home team in front 8-3, and they coasted to a 10-6 victory.

Jessica Dean led the Sharks with four goals while Katie Dvonch had a pair of scores for the Bears.

Following the match, LIU Head Coach Gabby Juarez was grateful to Brown coach Felix Mercado for the opportunity to launch her program in Providence. It was the California native’s first-ever match as an NCAA head coach.

[A Sport Grows in Brooklyn: LIU to Add Women’s Water Polo in 2019]

“Having our first game at Brown felt very supportive because Felix has been wonderful,” said Juarez, who was recruited by Mercado by instead chose to play college polo at UCLA. “Playing in this beautiful facility works well with our girls because as a team we’re pretty fast.”


Brown’s Felix Mercado and LIU’s Gabby Juarez. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

Mercado, who over the past five years has hosted inaugural matches for men’s programs at Austin, McKendree and Wagner, finds great satisfaction in helping the sport grow at the collegiate level.

“I was fortunate that the right people in my life helped me get were I am, so I always feel like I have to pay it forward.” the Brown coach, now in his 13th year, said from the Graham pool deck. “I’m fortunate to be in an institution that allows me to do this.”

Alex Williams, named last October as the seventh coach in Siena water polo history, made the most of his second-ever match as a head coach, leading his Saints to a 17-15 comeback victory against Austin College. Diana Fernandez contributed four goals from and Bianca Prinsloo three as Siena bounced back from a season-opening loss to Brown on Friday night.

“It was a big positive that at halftime we could regroup. We looked like a different team the second half than from the first.” Williams said about the match that saw the Saints fall behind early then outscore the Kangaroos 9-5 after intermission.

Siena split their day under their new head coach, dropping a tough match against St. Francis University 17-15, which got six goals from freshman Taylor Halbauer. The win—the Red Flash’s first of the season—came after a 19-6 loss to Wagner on the opening of play Saturday.

The Seahawks were also 1-1 on the day under new Head Coach Ciaran Wolohan, who launched his head coaching career last fall with the Seahawk men. After falling behind by three scores early in the second half against Harvard, Wagner rallied to tie behind goals from Malia Josephson and Abby Simshauser. A goal by Evan Tingler put the Crimson up by two with two minutes to play allowing Harvard to hold on for it’s second win of the day and open its season at 4-0. Earlier Saturday Head Coach Ted Minnis’ squad beat Whittier 20-9. Mathilde Ribordy and Borden Wahl each collected four scores in that win.

The Poets are one of two teams—the other is Claremont-Mudd-Scrips—from the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) that traveled East to open their season. Whitter kept LIU winless on it’s opening day of play, dropping the Sharks 14-13 behind three goals each from Sawyer Bellville and Teresa Marchetti.


Harvard’s Zoe Banks with a save against Wagner. Photo Courtesy: Jeanie Wahl

Brown (6-0) is also undefeated early this year. After beating LIU in the morning as they racked up a 9-4 evening win over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, The Athenas were 0-2 on the day, also dropping a 12-6 decision to Marist.

It was an unsatisfying split for Head Coach Chris Vidale, as the Red Foxes saw Bucknell pull away with four goals in the final period to win 16-12. The Bison got eight goals from Ally Furano, a single game record for the women’s program. Bucknell went to 2-0 on the season with a 13-8 decision over Austin, as Furano delivered another four goals to make it a dozen on one of the most productive days in Bison polo history.

Despite the loss—the program’s fourth in two days in Providence—the Kangaroos remain upbeat about their season. Head Coach Mark Lawrence’s roster has almost doubled to 17 from last year’s inaugural class of nine, a season in which they finished a surprising second in the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s DIII Women’s Tournament.

“We’re really excited about what we’re doing at Austin College,” the Austin men’s and women’s coach said. “The combination of us and high schools adapting [water polo] as a varsity sport is going to create some great momentum moving forward.”

Austin, like CMS and Whittier, is a candidate to participate in the first-ever Division III Women’s Collegiate Water Polo National Championship, which will take place May 8 and 9 on the West Coast. Not only is this tournament a boon for the sport nationally, according to Lawrence it will spur the adaption of collegiate polo in his state, which is currently only represented by the Kangaroos. That, and the approval last fall by Texas’ University Interscholastic League (UIL) Legislative Council for  water polo to be tried as a pilot program at the high school level beginning in 2021 means polo is truly growing all over the country.