Women’s Water Polo ranked first in CWPA Division III poll

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Author: Riley Kimball (Senior Writer)

Occidental women’s water polo has  achieved a 17-4 record against teams of all calibers thus far in the season. After tearing their way through all opponents, other coaches took notice and have started considering the Occidental women among the best teams in the country. They have been ranked No. 20 in the nation by some polls, No. 15 by others. And these are Division 1 rankings. The Tigers have reached a stratum rarely seen by Occidental teams, as they are now one of the most highly-touted water polo programs in the country.

This high profile arrives after a number of important victories over elite teams. A day after defeating UC Santa Barbara, then ranked No. 10 of all Division 1 schools, the women went on to beat fellow SCIAC competitors Cal Lutheran in their own pool. A week later, the women bested Division 1 team Bucknell.

“We’re kicking ass this season, and we’re just getting started” Danielle Garcia (junior) said.

By all accounts, this phenomenal success is the result of the team’s depth. The Tigers have elite athletes all down the bench, from starters to substitutes who can hold their own with the best of SCIAC. In addition to team captain Tessa Bailey-Findley (senior), Nanea Fujiyama (junior) and Corinne Casey (senior), the team’s underclassmen have contributed immensely to recent wins. Lindsay Albino (sophomore) is one of the team’s top scorers. In goal, Sofie Munoz (sophomore) and Geneva Perez (sophomore) have both subbed in to support starting goalkeeper Rachel Adeleye (junior) on off days. This depth has been crucial in games against other top tier programs.

“The underclassmen have really stepped up,” Bailey-Findley said. “They’ve been key in a lot of wins. It’s been a huge team effort.”

These games have been a warm-up for the SCIAC season, which begins this Saturday at Occidental against Pomona-Pitzer. These preseason matches have demonstrated the power of the Tigers, but the team still must prove themselves in games against every other SCIAC team.

The girls entered the season with a great deal of momentum but now they enter the SCIAC with a target on their backs. The challenge, as Coach Larry Zubrin sees it, is to stay at the top of the league. “Right now, we’re on the top of the mountain,” said Zubrin. “Getting to the top, that’s a huge challenge. But staying there, that’s the real challenge.”

In the past, the women have faltered in this stage. “Last season, we got a little complacent, a little comfortable with our success” said Zubrin. The team entered the final SCIAC tournament undefeated in the conference but lost in the finals to Redlands. This cost the team a spot in the National tournament, a mistake they hope to correct this year.

SCIAC play begins with two of the most hotly contested matches of the season, against Pomona-Pitzer and Whittier. The team has a fierce rivalry with Pomona, another perennial powerhouse in SCIAC and among the chief contenders for the conference title. Whittier, who traditionally finishes in the middle of the pack in SCIAC, have a new pool that they have utilized, building their young team into a potential SCIAC dark horse.

The SCIAC season kicks off this Saturday at Taylor Pool against Pomona, and the game stands to set the tone for the matches to come.

Despite the importance of this game, Zubrin isn’t worried. “We want other teams to know, bring your A game. Because we’re going to bring ours, and we’re going to be ready.”

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