May 26, 2009

Women's Water Polo Reflects on Successful Year

SANTA CLARA, Calif.- In a season seventh-year head coach Keith Wilbur said was full of ups and downs, the women's water polo team proved to be a resilient unit capable of successfully facing challenges in its way. Throughout the 2009 campaign they battled back from injuries and setbacks, but stayed true to their season goal - to play to their highest level. For their efforts, Santa Clara was ranked No. 17 nationally in the final poll of the year. They have finished the season in the top 20 four straight years now.

"This season we faced several challenges and through it all we were able to have the most successful run in program history," said Wilbur. "Reaching the WWPA Championship game for the first time in school history was a huge feat for us."

Santa Clara hosted the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) Conference Championship for the first time in school history from April 24-26, 2009. Entering the tournament as the No. 3 seed, the Broncos posted back-to-back come from behind wins over their quarterfinal and semifinal opponents, Colorado State and then-No. 15 Cal State Bakersfield, respectively, to reach the championship game for the first time in school history. Despite falling to the No. 1 seed and then-11th ranked Loyola Marymount in the finals, the 2009 SCU women's water polo team earned their first ever second-place finish in program history.

While its Cinderella run in the conference tournament was chalk full of landmark successes for Santa Clara, the road to the championship proved to be a test for the team. "This team has a lot of character," said Wilbur. "We experienced a lot of growing pains at the beginning of the season. Regardless of the young roster, they entered this year with the hopes of success and wanting to play to their best ability."

After graduating six seniors last season, the Broncos entered 2009 without the depth they had seen in seasons past, but not without the drive and desire to succeed. "I think that our entire team definitely stepped up this season." said Wilbur. "The veteran players took more active roles on the team, and several of our younger players had breakout seasons and definitely answered the call for more productivity."

With 10 underclassmen on the roster, Wilbur looked to the leadership of tri-captains Allie Lamb, Amy Lamb and Claire Linney to play a more crucial role on the team. The trio did not disappoint as they kept the team composed and focused when they faced hurdles.

"We had some tough losses and were plagued with injuries, but our captains did a great job being leaders on the team," said Wilbur. "They were able to regroup the team and remain grounded, which I think translated to a strong finish at the end of the season."

Amy Lamb finished her career by earning her first All-WWPA First Team career honor. The two-time All-WWPA selection led the Bronco offense this season with a team-high 50 goals, 43 assists, 31 steals and 22 kick outs drawn. She concluded her career with second team all-tournament team accolades at the WWPA Championship.

Linney finished her career with all-conference second team honors and all-tournament team first team accolades. A 2-meter defender, the Santa Cruz, Calif. native posted 50 kick outs drawn, 40 goals, 34 steals, 14 assists and nine 5-meter penalty shots drawn.

"We went into the conference tournament excited about playing at home which gave us confidence," said Linney. "If we were able to play our game we would be able to see success."

Wren White became SCU's lone goalie this season after seeing action in 10 contests last year. White took over cage duties with the poise of a veteran. Early on she broke her finger, missing two weeks, but she came on strong at the end to tally 248 blocks and 15 steals in 31 starts.

A member of the 2008 All-WWPA freshman team, Taylor Harkins played an even bigger role her sophomore year with 38 goals, 18 steals, 12 assists and eight kick outs drawn in 35 games played.

Finding their rhythm were Rochelle Stowe and Meg Zimmerman. Stowe tallied 20 steals, 19 goals, 18 kick outs and eight assists in 35 games. While Zimmerman, who even played in the cage while White was down with an injury, put up 64 kick outs drawn, 34 goals, 25 steals and seven 5-meter penalty shots drawn.

Jenny Knutson's shoulder was dislocated in the second game of the year against Stanford. She was out three weeks, and then played the rest of the season with a shoulder that was less than 100% with her best game of the year against CS Bakersfield in the semi-final game as she led the team with four goals and had the game winner.

Rounding out the Bronco standouts in 2009 was the freshmen duo of Marina Allen and Laura Espinosa. The Bay Area products were primary targets off the bench for Wilbur and became immediate impact players. In 35 straight games played and six starts, Allen posted 20 goals, 18 assists and 14 steals. Espinosa, who was named to the WWPA All-Freshman team, had 36 kick outs drawn, 15 goals, 15 steals and 11 assists in 35 games played.

With a standout historic season under their belt, the Santa Clara women's water polo team looks forward to building upon their success in 2009 and earning their first WWPA Championship and NCAA Tournament bid in 2010.