Jan. 26, 2006
Santa Clara, Calif. - Santa Clara University and San Jose State University will become rivals once again after a month's hiatus, as the women's water polo season kicks off for both teams this Saturday at 12pm in a game at the San Jose State Aquatics Center. The Rivalry Series, an annual competition between the two institution's 13 intercollegiate sports, has six events left to be completed and after seven competitions, Santa Clara leads its Bay Area foe 16 to 2. The winner of the water polo match will receive two points in the Rivalry Series.
Coming off a program best fourth-place finish at the 2005 Western Water Polo Association championships, Santa Clara is ready to maintain its status as one of the top schools not only in its conference, but also in the country, with a national ranking of No. 20 in the preseason polls. Graduating leading goal-scorer and All-WWPA First Team selection Catherine Flynn will leave a huge hole in frontline for the Broncos to overcome, but luckily for head coach Keith Wilbur, he has a solid core of athletes to rely upon this season, including co-captains Lindsey Bacolini and Alanna Simpkins. While losing such an offensive player in Flynn would be devastating for most teams, Wilbur is confident in his team's ability to rally and regroup.
"We graduated only one starter in Catherine Flynn, but she was our leading goal scorer last year," said Wilbur. "I don't think we have one player that is going to score like Catherine did last year, but as a team, I think we will be able to fill that void by having several players increase their offensive production."
While Santa Clara will not be relying on one specific person to carry them throughout the season, Wilbur expects his team's strengths to counter the loss of Flynn. The Broncos' speed in the pool and their smothering defense will lead to many transition goals. As for its half-court offense, SCU will depend upon its experience, depth and strong team chemistry to create goal-scoring opportunities. Drivers Andrea Evans, Emily Bonk, and Simpkins, along with utility players Katie Radvanyi and Bacolini, will take on much of the responsibility for offensive production.
"We are going to push the counter attack even more so than last year, and everybody will get more involved in the half court offense," said Wilbur. "We do not have one dominant offensive threat, but most everybody on our team has a solid offensive game. The key for us is to find and expose mismatches when we are on offense."
The offensive contributions are still an open question mark for Santa Clara, but defense is an area that Wilbur feels very confident about heading into the season. Junior Kristin Barnes returns to man the cage after a very productive sophomore campaign and her solid play is the backbone of the Broncos' defense. The field defense will be lead by Bacolini and Elizabeth Perry, two excellent two-meter defenders who usually match up with the opponent's top scorers. With no losses to its backline, SCU has the experience and talent to be a great defensive squad in 2006.
Santa Clara also has the pleasure of welcoming a large freshmen class and Wilbur believes that their presence will only add to the depth of the team. "We have a talented freshmen class," declared Wilbur. "We definitely have several freshmen who are going to get significant playing time in close games."
To welcome the freshmen class into the arena of collegiate water polo will be co-captains Bacolini and Simpkins, two impact players who will be counted on for their veteran leadership in and out of the pool. Bacolini, who transferred to Santa Clara from Hartwick College last season, is both a force on offense and defense, while Simpkins has spent the last three years as a starter for the Broncos. Their ability to bring the team together and create a cohesive and positive environment will be invaluable to Wilbur.
"Both these players are hard workers and have earned the respect of their teammates. They will do a great job leading this team this year," said Wilbur.
With many experienced players returning from one of last season's top WWPA squads, along with a talented freshmen class, the Santa Clara women's water polo team is on the rise and their goal of finishing higher within their conference is quite attainable. The foundation for future success has been laid out for the Broncos and they hope to bring all the pieces together for yet another great season.