Author: Larissa Saco
The Collegiate Water Polo Association released its 2011 Division III Top 10 preseason poll on Jan. 12 and has ranked the Occidental College women’s water polo team number one in the nation.
The team was nationally ranked by an anonymous vote among a panel of Division III coaches from across the country. The ranking is based on the team’s success last season. “Honestly, the ranking is just a bonus from our hard work last year,” captain Julie Monday (senior) said. Occidental placed second in the SCIAC conference with only 11 players on the roster instead of the usual 15-17.
Every one of those players came back this season, including four All-Americans: captain Julie Monday (senior), captain Karie Nickle (senior), utility player Tessa Bailey-Findley (junior) and center Nanea Fujiyama (sophomore).
In addition, the team has more than doubled this season with 24 players on the roster. “The major difference is more bodies! This year we have rotations,” Monday said.
In order to keep their number one ranking, the team is working towards getting the 10 new players accustomed to college level water polo. During the beginning of the year, the team focused mainly on conditioning.
Since the season’s start on Jan. 25, they have been working on game basics and strategy while practicing two hours twice a day. “In order to integrate the new players into the system, we are using these early season practices to go over the basics of offense and defense fundamentals,” head coach Larry Zubrin said.
Occidental will be playing against multiple Division I teams at upcoming tournaments in preparation for the SCIAC conference. “Since water polo is so small at the college level, most of the teams we play are of scholarship programs,” Zubrin said. The team hopes that this valuable experience will get the new players more comfortable with college level water polo in time for conference games. The team’s first tournament is on Feb. 12.
The team’s main goal is to rank first in the SCIAC conference and then to continue winning games. If the team wins the SCIAC conference, they will qualify for a game that will decide whether or not they proceed to the ultimate test of their current number one rank: the national championship game.
The team overall is keeping a practical and positive attitude concerning the ranking. “The rank is more exciting than intimidating,” Geneva Perez (first-year) said. The Tigers know that it is going to take an immense amount of work and dedication in order to beat the rest of the SCIAC teams, six of which are also included in the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Division III Top 10 preseason poll. “It’s exciting to come in as number one but it’s more important to finish as number one,” Zubrin said.
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