AZUSA, Calif.-- Second year head coach Julie Snodgrass is hoping her second season at the helm will see the Azusa Pacific women’s water polo team finish what it started. In the midst of a 9-27 season the Cougars saw multiple leads dwindle away, and were outscored by 62 goals in the second half as the team racked up a program-high 27 losses. And while there were many highlights in 2012, most were overshadowed by a disappointing season in the win column, most notably in one telling match.
The season could be summarized by its most painful, but indicative contest, a 7-6 loss to Chapman. In the first quarter the Cougars’ young talent showed as they jumped out to a 5-0 lead after eight minutes. Things looked bright for a squad that featured a lot of front-end talent. But over the next three periods a glaring weakness was exposed: depth. Chapman stormed back with seven of the next eight goals, and outscored the Cougars 4-1 in the second half to claim the win. This year, Snodgrass is hopeful that trend won’t rear its ugly head.
“We had a lot of matches last year where we were so tired that we tuckered out in the fourth quarter,” said Snodgrass. “With the roster and talent that we’ve gained we hope to finish. Success will be defined by our perseverance and mentality. This team is mentally tough, and it’ll be fun to see that come out.”
And the roster includes some of the top players in program-history. In 2012 Jennifer Horchler ranked second in the nation (NCAA and NAIA) with a program-record 79 steals. She tallied a record nine steals against nationally ranked UC Santa Barbara, and logged a single-season record 30 assists as a junior. She enters this season as Azusa Pacific’s all-time scoring leader with 83 career goals, and as one of the team’s top all-around players after registering 18 matches with a goal, steal, and assist in 2012.
Sophomores Lora Donaldson, Taylor Whitney, and Courtney Folsom all posted strong freshman campaigns, while junior Meghan Minekime returns for her second season with the program. Minekime tied with Horchler with 30 assists (program-record) and drew a team-high 60 ejections, while Whitney’s 50 goals in 2012 were the second-most all-time. Sophomore Alyssa Hess set the team’s goal-record in 2011 (64), and after red shirting in 2012, is set to return for her second season, while Allison Gonzales is coming off a productive junior year which saw the San Dimas native score 21 goals and dish out 19 assists. How the Cougars fare in 2013 will depend on how the returners mesh with the incoming talent, and how the team responds to a daunting schedule.
FACING THE BEST
No other program at Azusa Pacific plays as tough a schedule as the women’s water polo team, and this year, it’s no different. On tap for the Cougars in 2013 are 13 NCAA Division I teams, including seven that are ranked in the preseason Collegiate Water Polo Association coaches poll. Two of those teams are rated in the top-10 nationally, with USC ranked second in the nation, and Loyola Marymount rated eighth.
“We will go and play the best to sharpen our own skills and compete at the highest level possible. We have a lot of division I matches and even with that we’ll see Stanford (No. 1) and California (No. 4) at a few tournaments,” said Snodgrass. “Our toughest competition is obviously USC. It’s going to be a learning experience for players and coaches, but the girls are happy to play against those teams and be in the same pool as Olympians.”
Azusa Pacific will have plenty of weapons at its disposal. Horchler, Whitney, and Folsom each had 40+ goals and 20+ assists, while Minekime registered 31 goals and 30 assists. Donaldson and Gonzales also finished with 20+ scores apiece.
Minekime and freshman Brittany Garrigan will spend a lot of time in the middle, with Hess, who owns the single-match record for goals with seven, and Whitney filling in at 2-meter when needed. Outside threats Folsom and Horchler are dangerous from deep and on the drive, while Angelina Castaneda’s skill set makes her a menace for opposing defenses. Junior transfer Rebecca Benningson is a good outside shooter, and a strong post-up player.
The transition offense features speedsters like Donaldson, Sophie Prorok, Breana Echevarria, and Maryann Slama, making the Cougars dangerous in an array of scenarios. Newcomers Claire Bultmea, Paige Lange, and Alynn Reade will also be relied upon in their first season with the program.
“Jennifer and Courtney are phenomenal drivers, and our freshmen have come in and learned a lot. We have a lot of speed with Sophie, Breana, and Maryann, and they all bring a good mentality to the pool,” said Snodgrass. “We have a lot of strong shooters and we have a lot of depth at center. I think our offense will be much stronger this season.”
BETWEEN THE POSTS
The Cougars are returning just one keeper, Jessica Armagost, from last season. The junior goalie recorded 36 saves as a sophomore, and logged two matches with 10+ saves in her freshman year. She’ll be competing with Katie Margot for the starting gig in goal. Margot is a long and lean freshman with strong leadership qualities, while Armagost is a heady keeper with quick reactions and good instincts.
“There isn’t a set keeper at this point. The girls are still competing. Jessica has improved immensely from last year and does a really good job of cutting off the angles. Katie is more of your prototypical goalie. She’s tall and can block shots from corner to corner, and does a really good job of vocally helping to direct the team. They’ll likely split time for much of the beginning of the season, and I’m confident with either of them in goal,” said Snodgrass.
For the first time in program history the Cougars will get to play their home matches in Azusa, with three home dates set at Citrus College (adjacent to Azusa Pacific). The dates are slated for March 12, 21, and 23. On the 12th the Cougars welcome Wagner all the way from New York for a 12:30 contest. Then on the 21 Cal State Monterey Bay will face the Cougars before Chapman makes the short trek from Orange on the 23. All three matches will be streamed live on the Cougars Live Video Portal for $7.95 each.
“I’m excited about getting to play at home. It’ll be nice to have the student population know that there are water polo games. With so many matches on the road it’s nice to have home games to look forward to. I’m excited to see how the players will respond to it,” said Snodgrass.
The Cougars will play in five tournaments, where they’ll take on 11 NCAA Division I teams. At the UCSB Mini Azusa Pacific squares off with UCSB, Pacific, and Loyola Marymount, and at the University of Pacific Invite the team will see Hartwick (N.Y.) and Pacific. Azusa Pacific will again compete in both of California Baptist’s Lancer Invites, taking on a combined five Division I teams, including No. 2 USC and nationally ranked CBU. At the Cal Lutheran Tournament the Cougars will play Villanova (Pa.).