DAY 26 (Aug. 26): Cougar Polo’s Fearless Approach
Women’s water polo at Azusa Pacific may be new, with the program entering its fifth season in 2013, but that doesn’t mean head coach Julie Snodgrass is taking baby steps towards bringing the Cougars into national prominence. With a fearless approach in scheduling her team has had the opportunity to play some of the nation’s elite, most notably in 2012 as the Cougars squared off with half of the teams that earned a spot in the eight-team NCAA tournament, including fifth place Loyola Marymount.
No other team at Azusa Pacific plays a tougher schedule than does the polo team, which in 2012 faced off with seven teams ranked inside the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s coach’s top-20, a poll that consists of mainly NCAA Div. I programs, but can include Div. II, III, and NAIA teams.
Since 2009 the Cougars have played 18 matches against NCAA Div. I opponents, with a program-high 11 in Snodgrass’ first season at the helm in 2012. In fact, Snodgrass’ courageous attitude towards scheduling was no more apparent than in the team’s only two home matches of the season, where she opted to welcome an Arizona State squad that finished the year rated No. 5 in the nation, and a Princeton program that took home sixth place at the NCAA tournament.
“I was taking anyone that wanted to play us. I am willing to play anyone for the sake of improving our strength of schedule and challenging our team,” said Snodgrass. “The stronger the teams you play the better you’ll get. If you play teams at, or below your level, then you’ll never get better. In this building process I’m trying to give our girls exposure to good and great water polo.”
The Cougars lost both matches by a combined score of 13-37, but it wasn’t all bad. Freshman Courtney Folsom notched a hat trick against the Sun Devils, while junior Jennifer Horchler recorded four goals in the two matches.
Next season the Cougars will again play a loaded schedule (which will be released later this fall), with Div. I Santa Clara already confirmed to play the Cougars in 2013 along with Div. I Wagner (N.Y.), and Pacific, to go along with stops at the UC Santa Barbara mini tournament, and the always tough Lancer Invitational at California Baptist. Needless to say the Cougars will have their hands full in 2013.
The logic behind the difficult schedule also lies in the fact that Azusa Pacific is looking for a conference to compete in. And while rumblings of a new hybrid Div. I and Div. II conference home for the Cougars continue, Snodgrass wants to make sure that her program is ready for whatever comes.
“The conference that we most likely would go into is a mixed one for NCAA Div. I and Div. II teams. The NCAA tournament is also mixed, so if our goal is to be highly competitive, we’ll have to be competitive with division I teams,” she said.
Azusa Pacific won’t be eligible for the NCAA tournament for the next two seasons, with 2015 being the first season that the team could contend for a berth into the eight-team tournament.