Bring a group of girls together in an environment filled with competition and some issues might arise. However, the close-knit group of athletes on the UC Irvine women’s water polo team rose above any typical team drama.
The Anteaters finished 15-12 overall with some huge wins and a few disappointing let downs. Early concerns of how to fill the offensive void left by last year’s powerhouse seniors Robyn Kaake and Jackie Prine were evident, but the team was not worried. They were winning important games against teams like UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State.
However, the team did hit a low point. Every year, the Anteaters invite 16 of the top 20 teams in the country to play in an invitational at Anteater Aquatics Complex called UC Irvine Invite. The girls approach this tournament with high hopes for establishing themselves as solid contenders. However, this year’s event did not go in their favor.
A significant win against a major contender was the result of the team’s incredible heart and determination. On March 8, the team faced an impressive Arizona State team in a highly anticipated match at the Anteater Aquatics Complex. The tone was set early as junior Sarah Frost put in two goals in the first minute. But the game quickly became an emotional rollercoaster as Arizona State University scored four straight goals, putting Irvine in catch-up mode. The players responded like true competitors and scored five consecutive goals, only to realize their opponent was not going to give up easily. The game went into overtime and the true character of the team came out. In a grueling fourth over-time period, Frost scored in sudden death to put away Arizona State. The team rallied thereafter, putting together a string of victories and attempting to carry as much momentum into the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships as possible.
A key ingredient in maintaining momentum would depend on the continuing dominance of the ‘Eaters’ goal keeper, Lauren Machanis. Considered by many as one of the best goal keepers in the country, she rarely had less than a double-digit number of saves. Co-captain junior Julia Francher said, “[Lauren] is extremely athletic and her instinct in the pool is unbelievable.” However, Machanis is only one of the very valuable seniors leaving this year. The team is once again losing its top scorer Jessica Lewis and captain Alli Russell, who is a main setter and huge contributor to the team’s success. Nicole Flacco and Angela Briggs are two seniors that round out this fantastic core of seniors that has had such a huge impact on the younger players and the program as a whole.
When asked about how much this group of seniors meant to the team, Francher started her response by saying, “I have to make sure I don’t make myself cry … She then explained, “A lot of the time you will get seniors that distance themselves because they feel like they are just a lot older. But with these girls they were very involved and it just shows that all across the board everyone really got along with each other. ”
Any time you get a core of seniors that really takes hold of the teams’ goals and tries to keep the team together as solid unit, the team will flourish. The most standout aspect of this squad is the tightly knit team aspect that often falls short in so many of today’s collegiate sports. With many players using their collegiate time as a gateway into bigger and better things, egos can get in the way. It is very clear that this year’s squad grew close, and at the forefront were its spectacular seniors.
With some very promising recruits coming to the squad and the team’s impressive coaches, Dan Klatt and Andy Coffman, it looks like it will be another spectacular season where our Anteater squad will set out to prove itself as one of best emerging programs in the country.