Bronco Water Polo Preps For WWPA Championships

By, John Nash

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - The Santa Clara University women's water polo team will begin postseason play this weekend in the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) conference tournament at Chabot Community College. Nine teams will converge on the East Bay in search of an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament held in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Santa Clara (13-18 overall, 10-6 WWPA) has earned the three seed, and will open up against sixth-seeded Sonoma State (8-26, 3-9 WWPA) on Friday, Apr. 26 at 12 noon. For a complete bracket visit the WWPA's tournament central.

"Our goal during the regular season was to play well in conference and earn a high seed for WWPA's," said head coach Keith Wilbur.  "A three-seed accomplished that goal, and it demonstrates that we are capable of competing with the top teams in our conference."

The Broncos have already faced Sonoma St. twice this season, defeating the Seawolves 7-5 on Feb. 13 at the Triton Invitational in San Diego and winning 12-8 on Mar. 28 at Sonoma St. A victory would likely match the Broncos up with No. 2 UC San Diego, who plays No. 7 Cal State Bakersfield. The Broncos fell twice to the Tritons, including a double-overtime thriller at the Sullivan Aquatic Center two weeks ago.

"Sonoma State is a very well coached team, and we will need to execute in all phases of the game against them," said Wilbur.  "I think we can set the tone by playing good defense, so that is something that we always emphasize.  I also think converting power play opportunities will be a very important part of the game Friday."

A big part of earning those power play opportunities is Whitney Allen, as she drew three ejections in last Saturday's game against UC Davis. Allen now has totaled 45 on the season, second on the team. She has also tallied 32 steals on the season, as well as scoring 10 goals and shooting a blistering 52.6 percent.

"Whitney is a relentless counter-attacker and driver. Her energy going up and down the pool on counters and also creating motion on our half court offense creates lots of good scoring chances for our team," said Wilbur. "A lot of what Whitney creates does not show up in the stat book, but the whole team knows how important she is.  She is definitely a key player on our team that makes us go."

Santa Clara's best finish at the WWPA tournament came in 2009, when they finished second. If the Broncos are going to make a run at their first NCAA tournament bid, leading scorers Taylor Harkins and Claire Eadington will have to provide the Broncos with productive performances offensively. A strong point this season for SCU has been at two-meters, as Laura Espinosa and Laura Burtness will need to continue to get good production out of hole set.

The Broncos will need to play tough team defense this weekend to advance, and that starts with experienced goalkeeper Wren White, who will be appearing in her third WWPA tournament. White, Harkins, W. Allen, Jade Look and Caitlin Espe are the SCU seniors, capping off their collegiate careers this spring.

SCU NOTES: Junior 2M Laura Espinosa has broken Katie Radvanyi '07 and Meg Zimmerman's '10 single-season school record of 64 earned ejections … UT Taylor Harkins, who leads the team with 51 goals, became the all-time leader in scoring at Santa Clara with six goals against CS Bakersfield on Apr. 16, she enters the WWPA's with 166 for her career … freshman UT Claire Eadington continues to lead the team in assists (38) and ranks second on the team in goals (42)… UT Caitlin Espe is the team-leader in steals (45) and currently ranks 4th all time in career steals (80) ... Whitney Allen ranks 4th all time in earned ejections (93)... neither Santa Clara water polo program (men's or women's) has ever appeared in the NCAA tournament... for complete 2011 stats click here.