March 6, 2009

Women's Water Polo: Healthy and Ready to Play

March 6, 2009

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- After an exciting weekend at the Slugfest Tournament at UC Santa Cruz, the Santa Clara women's water polo team is looking forward to a competitive showing at the Aggie Shootout at UC Davis on Sunday, March 8. The Broncos will take on conference rival No. 17 California State Bakersfield at 10:30 a.m., and host No. 11 UC Davis at 4:30 p.m. After opening the season with a national ranking, then playing through several injuries and illness, SCU is ready to continue their winning ways and have a successful remainder of the 2009 season. Senior Kendal Hildebrand, junior Meg Zimmerman, sophomore Taylor Harkins and freshman Marina Allen sat down with SantaClaraBroncos.com to discuss the team, going forward and their role on the young progressing Bronco women's water polo team.

Senior Kendal Hildebrand
As one of five seniors on the Bronco roster, Kendal Hildebrand has developed into a leader on a team that three short years ago she walked on to. The Bellevue, Wash. native, graduated high school with the hopes of continuing her water polo career at Santa Clara, and with perseverance and dedication the SCU driver has become an integral member of the Bronco lineup.

SantaClaraBroncos.com: Since walking on, how do you think your role on the team has changed and developed?

Kendal Hildebrand: It was really hard coming from a small Washington high school team to a California college team; where everyone is really good and was probably the best player on their high school teams. This season I'm playing a lot more and have been starting, so I'm in more of a leadership role. I think as a senior you always fall into a leadership role, but it's great because I can talk to the freshman who might be having a hard time and help them out. I see freshman doing the same things I did as a freshman and now I'm in a position to help them out.

SCB:What was the most challenging part of the walk-on process? What was your biggest obstacle?

KH: It was adjusting to this level of play. I was one of the best players on my high school team, but everyone else was the best on their high school team, too.

SCB:What do you have to do to help lead the team to a successful 2009 season?

KH: I think keeping a good attitude is important. We've had a lot of injuries and it's been frustrating, so it's important that we keep our heads up and keep pushing to try hard. Personally, I have to keep playing well, continue to contribute and help us get in the top-four at WWPA's.

SCB: What advice would you give to the freshmen?

KH: Particularly for this season, I would say keep your heads up. We have a hard schedule ahead of us and behind us too. It's going to be frustrating, but you have to keep your head up; and also, have fun. You play this sport because you love it; you wouldn't put the time and effort in every day if you didn't love it.

Junior Meg Zimmerman
This Bay Area local product has become a driving force in the Bronco lineup. Junior Meg Zimmerman typifies what it means to be a team player, as she played goalie for two games and has started in the field in all 16 contests this season. She's amassed team-highs in kick outs and 5-meter penalties drawn, with 31 kick outs and five 5-meters. Zimmerman also posts 16 steals, 13 goals, three assists and two field blocks.

Junior Meg Zimmerman


SantaClaraBroncos.com: How does the team feel going into the Aggie Shootout, after a strong showing at the Slugfest?

Meg Zimmerman: I think we all feel really good. It was our first big weekend, getting three wins. It was a booster for us, after struggling the last few weeks with injuries and our goalie being out. It really helped us get our season going.

SCB: How did it feel to playing goalie, after never playing in the cage in your Santa Clara career?

MZ: It was hard, but it was something that both Claire (Linney) and I had to do. We got in the cage a lot in practice and Coach helped a lot too. Our defense played really well to prevent opponents from getting a lot of shots off on us.

SCB:What was it like being in the cage for the last minute win versus Cal Baptist?

MZ: It was a back-and-forth game that came down to the last seconds. I was really nervous because it was my first game at goalie. My heart was beating really fast. I felt more weight on my shoulders because I was playing in a position I never played before, not even in high school.

SCB: How do you as a leader keep everyone motivated?

MZ: For me the most important part is having a good attitude. As upperclassmen we are positive and don't get down on the situation. We've had practices where all of our seniors were out hurt, and in those practices we were able to see what the younger players are able to do and what our team will look like in the coming years.

SCB: What's your take on freshmen Marina Allen and Laura Espinosa, who have had strong rookie debuts?

MZ: I think they are both doing really well this season. Laura is doing a lot on offense and drawing a lot of kick outs. Marina has been a really good shooter and has great ball control. She has not made very many mistakes for a freshman, which is different; she's really stepped up on our team.

Sophomore Taylor Harkins
Coming off a solid freshman campaign in 2008, sophomore Taylor Harkins has proven her dominance in the pool with her offensive prowess at driver. She's tallied 16 goals, seven assists and five kick outs in 16 straight starts.

Sophomore Taylor Harkins


SantaClaraBroncos.com: After a great freshman campaign, what are you doing personally to continue to make significant contributions and help the team improve?

Taylor Harkins: We lost a bunch of great seniors at the end of last year and we are all working on stepping up. I have been stepping up into a leadership role. As a freshman you take all the shots you can get and can get away with freshman mistakes. This year I can't do that. I'm starting and it's great, but everyone is stepping it up to try to fill the shoes of last years senior class.

SCB: What was the biggest adjustment for you coming from high school water polo to playing at the Division I level?

TH: My high school team was very competitive. We had 5:30 a.m. practices and our coach ran our team a lot like a college team. College practice is definitely harder and every minute counts. Scrimmages are a lot more physical. I felt prepared coming onto this team, and Coach does a great job of helping everyone adjust to the higher level of practice and play. There is an adjustment period, but playing on a competitive high school team definitely prepared me for college.

SCB: How did last weekend's tournament at Santa Cruz go?

TH: We've had a lot of injuries coming back from the Triton Tournament, including our goalie (Wren White), who broke her finger there. She was finally back for the Slugfest. Now I think we're fully recovered. We won all three of our games on Saturday. It was the first time we have had three games in one day. Then we lost Sunday to Indiana, 7-5. I think Sunday we were still tired from Saturday and we didn't execute well. I think if we played Indiana again, though, we could beat them.

SCB: What is the best part about being a Bronco and representing SCU as a student-athlete?

TH: I think traveling is the best part. I love when we are in the airport in our warm ups and people come up, and talk to us about the school and playing water polo. It's great the people can recognize the school and the sport, and make a point to say something to us about it.

SCB: If you had to choose something other than water polo - another sport, hobby, activity, etc. - what would it be.

TH: I love to cook and bake, so I would probably do that a lot more. I'm also in a sorority, so I would want to do more with that, because I miss dances and other events. But water polo is my sport; I don't think I'd be able to play anything else.

Freshman Marina Allen
For only beginning her collegiate career a little over two months ago, freshman Marina Allen has already made a name for herself in the Bronco lineup. The SCU newcomer has proven to be a key in Santa Clara's success, with 10 goals, eight assists, six steals, a field block and a kick out drawn. She has played in all 16 games this season and has started two at utility.

SantaClaraBroncos.com: How does it feel to be an impact player in your freshman season?

Marina Allen: It's interesting. I didn't know how it would be coming in and if I'd even get playing time. I love it here, the team's chemistry is great and Coach is awesome.

Freshman Marina Allen


SCB: How has the transition from being a top player in high school to being one of the youngest on a collegiate team?

MA: It is a hard transition, but the key is you just have to work harder in practice to get your spot. Sometimes I have bad practices, but you just have to accept it and keep working hard. You can't get down on yourself. The older players help and give us advice on things to do right; they are always positive.

SCB: How have the upperclassmen influenced your game?

MA: They are all hard workers. It is nice to see them working hard and it is motivating. You see that they got to where they are by working hard and if I work hard, hopefully one day I'll get to their level.

SCB: What's it like playing for a new coach, has the transition been hard?

MA: I think Coach is perfect for it. He is really encouraging and is positive. Coach accepts that we are all learning, especially the freshmen who haven't had this kind of experience before. He is understanding if we make mistakes and he let's us know constructively what we could do better next time. If we need to work with him individually, he is always willing to.

SCB: After a strong weekend at the Slugfest, how does the team feel?

MA: We feel good. We are really excited, despite the loss to Indiana; it was great to go, 3-0, on Saturday. It is a great momentum builder for our season, since we are just coming off of being injured