SANTA CLARA, Calif. – For the third time in school history, the Santa Clara women's water polo team finished in the top three at the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) Championship Tournament. The Broncos finished the regular season 10-6 in WWPA action, while compiling numerous impressive individual performances this season.
The Broncos faced one of their toughest schedules in school history, playing 14 games against opponents ranked in the top-20. This included two wins over then-No. 19 Pacific on Feb. 26 and Mar. 5. The difficult schedule ultimately paid off, as the Broncos were playing their best water polo of the year down the stretch.
"Playing a tough schedule can be very beneficial if the team has the right approach to those games," said Bronco head coach Keith Wilbur. "I think our team was focused on getting better throughout the year, so even when we were losing games to ranked teams, they also saw themselves improving. Towards the end of the year, this really helped us to play at a higher level in some important conference games and at WWPA's."
Four of the team's five seniors earned all-conference recognition at season's end. Record-setting goalkeeper Wren White (Los Gatos/Presentation HS) blocked 241 shots, Whitney Allen (Hillsborough/ Menlo HS) drew 52 ejections, Caitlin Espe (Los Gatos/Los Gatos HS) had 53 steals, Jade Look (Honolulu, Hawaii/ Iolani HS) distributed 12 assists and Taylor Harkins (Newport Beach/Corona Del Mar HS) shattered the program's all-time scoring record of 161, finishing her career with 171.
All five seniors will graduate in June, 2011. Not only did they contribute statistically, but each played a major role in mentoring and developing a team that featured 17 underclassmen.
"Our senior class has a great work ethic, so they were able to lead by example," coach Wilbur said. "They also were upbeat and positive throughout the season. They set goals for themselves and the team, and they never lost sight of those goals. They did a great job of showing the younger players what it takes to succeed at the college level."
Harkins established SCU's new scoring record late in the year, registering a career-high six goals against Colorado State on Apr. 17 – a game that propelled Santa Clara to a top-three seed at the league championships. Harkins was the Broncos' scoring leader in each of the past two years.
"Taylor has great a great arm, and she has great vision of open shooting lanes," said Wilbur. "She also does not hesitate when she recognizes a good shot. When you put all those qualities together, you will have a great scorer."
Complimenting SCU's senior class, true freshman Claire Eadington (Corona Del Mar/ Corona Del Mar HS) recorded one of the best rookie seasons in Broncos history. Eadington scored 46 goals, handed out 40 assists, had 41 steals and earned 30 ejections. Eadington became the first SCU player to win the WWPA's Newcomer of the Year award.
Eadington, who was also named to the WWPA All-Freshman Team, finished the season ranked No. 2 nationally in assists among all collegiate freshmen. She was not shy about taking the big shot, netting the game-winner with four seconds left against No. 19 Pacific on Feb. 26, one of two wins over top 20 teams for SCU in 2011.
"Coming out of one of the best high school programs in Corona Del Mar, Claire was very well prepared to make the jump to the college game," said Wilbur. "Claire is a very good all-around player, and we gave her at lot of responsibility this year as freshman. She did an outstanding job."
Santa Clara finished third at the WWPA Tournament, the second highest finish in school history. The Broncos beat Sonoma St. 7-4 in the first round, but fell to eventual champion UC San Diego 9-7 in the semi-finals. SCU took down host Cal St. East Bay 7-4 in one of its most complete games of the season to grab third place.
The Broncos racked up numerous postseason awards. Harkins and Espe were named to the WWPA all-conference first and second teams respectively. Junior Laura Espinosa (Mountain View/Mountain View HS) was named a WWPA Honorable Mention, after setting the Broncos single-season record for ejections earned with 76.
White and W. Allen were named to the 2011 WWPA All-Tournament first team. In addition, White and Espinosa were named WWPA 'Players of the Week' during the 2011 season.
Looking forward, the Broncos have a strong incoming class of Nicolette Balch (San Diego/Carlsbad HS), Ashleigh Bandimere (Carlsbad/Carlsbad HS), Julia Peters (San Jose/Presentation HS), Lauren Radich (Danville/Carondolet HS) and Jessica Shusko (Laguna Beach/Laguna Beach HS) who will attend SCU and play for the Broncos in 2011-12. Adding to an already talented group of Bronco returners, SCU will expect to be among the WWPA's top teams again in 2012.
"We are losing a very strong senior class, but you hope that all the other players who are returning can really benefit from the season we just had," said Wilbur. "We finished the season strong this year, and that should be a starting point for next season. We have a very good class coming in so it will be exciting to see how the new players add to the mix."