The Best in the Big West: Women’s Water Polo

UC Irvine’s women’s water polo team, which has won four out of five Big West Tournament titles since 2009, continued to establish their dominance in the league as they claimed their fifth conference championship by defeating Cal State Northridge 11-4 on April 27 in Long Beach.

Despite giving up the first goal, top-seeded Irvine would go on to hold a 3-1 lead through the first quarter. The second quarter was a more closely contested affair as CSUN scored to pull themselves within one goal on three occasions; the Anteaters would respond each time to maintain a 6-4 lead at the half. The defensive prowess of top-seeded Irvine would be on full display as Northridge was held to a scoreless second half through several picked off passes and four blocked shots from the field.

Fourth-year Hannah Croghan had a game high of four goals and was named the Big West Tournament MVP. Throughout the tournament, Croghan recorded a total of six goals, four field blocks, three earned exclusives, three steals, and an assist.

After scoring three goals on Saturday and Sunday, Jessy Cardey became the  all-time leader in goals for UC Irvine with a grand total of 218, eclipsing the previous mark of 217 set by Robyn Kaake in 2009. Cardey also holds the most career tournament goals with 21, surpassing the previous mark of 19 held by UC Davis’s Jessica Dunn.

Third-year goalkeeper Jillian Yocum posted a solid effort on the defensive end, recording five saves in the first quarter alone and finishing with 11 en route to shutting down the Matadors in the second half.

Coming into the Big West Tournament, there seemed to be little doubt that the tournament was Irvine’s to lose. A week prior, no. 6 UC Irvine earned its fourth consecutive regular season title and fifth overall by defeating no. 10 LBSU 10-7 to remain undefeated in Big West play with a perfect 5-0 record.

Since the inception of the league in 2009, the Lady Anteaters have reigned supreme every year with the exception of the 2012-2013 season during which they fell in overtime to no. 1 Hawai’i in the finals of the Big West Tournament. As of now, UC Irvine holds a cumulative record of 28-4 through six seasons of regular season play and is an impressive 14-1 all time in the Big West Tournament.

UC Irvine’s overall record of 24-7 sets the mark for the second-high single-season number of wins for the program, one short of the benchmark of 25 wins set in 2012. UC Irvine’s 333 goals is the third-most scored in a single season, averaging 10.74 goals per match.

This season also marks Irvine’s highest finish in the UC Irvine Invitational, finishing in sixth place. Furthermore, the Big West champions’ defeat of no. 4 Arizona earlier on in the season matched the highest-ranked opponent that the program held victory over; a 10-4 rout over then no. 4 Hawai’i in 2007.

As in the past, on top of winning the regular season and tournament titles, the women’s water polo team  also laid claim to a plethora of individual accolades. In addition to an All-Big West  First-Team selection, third-year utility player Danielle Warde earned the honor of the Big West Player of the Year, marking a team high of 56 goals and consistently posting strong defensive plays. She is the third Anteater to be awarded the honor, joining Gianna Rossi from 2009 and fellow teammate Jessy Cardey who earned back-to-back Player of the Year honors in 2011 and 2012.

Seniors Hannah Croghan, Jessy Cardey, Hillary Estrada and Jillian Yocum were also given First-Team selections. Cardey, the all-time scoring leader for UC Irvine, is the first in program as well as conference history to earn First Team honors throughout all four years of play. This marks Croghan’s and Yocum’s second time being selected as First-Teamers, while it is co-captain Estrada’s first after earning second-team honors in 2013. Rounding out the selections is sophomore center McKenna Mitchell, who gained an honorable mention for the second consecutive year.

Finally, head coach Dan Klatt was once again awarded the title of Big West Coach of the Year. It is Klatt’s fifth time earning this honor since 2009, and deservedly so, as he has led the Lady Anteaters to five regular season and tournament titles. Klatt also holds an impressive 131-56 record.

With the Big West Tournament victory, UC Irvine clinches its third NCAA Tournament berth as the no. 6 seed, and will face no. 3 USC in the opening round on May 9th. The Anteaters suffered losses in both meetings to the defending NCAA champions this season, falling 8-3 at the UCSD Triton Invite and 16-5 at the Trojan’s home pool.

The NCAA Tournament takes place at the Uytengsu Aquatics Center from May 9-11, and UCI is guaranteed to be playing all three days of the tourney.