The Lady ‘Eaters’ Polo squad is again heading to the NCAA Tournament, thanks to a nail-biting victory over Hawaii in sudden death to claim the Big West championship for the second year in a row.
Last year, UCI’s playoff berth yielded a close loss to Cal but the ‘Eaters are posed to not let history repeat itself as they take on Pomona-Pitzer this Tuesday, May 8 and then face No. 1 Stanford three days later. A win over Stanford, though tough to come by, is within the ‘Eaters’ power, especially considering the finish UCI has had to the regular season not playing their best polo until the Big West tournament, where they beat UC Davis and Hawaii. two opponents who earlier in the season the ‘Eaters could took losses to.
As the ‘Eaters trend upward, wins over Stanford and Pomona Pitzer are looking like real possibilities. Especially considering the way UCI has responded to teams that have beat them earlier in the season. UCI has had time to get a feel for Stanford taking an early 12-2 loss to them, and then an 8-3 loss later in the season. This if anything, only excites the ‘Eaters as the get a chance to surprise Stanford and show them the type of polo UCI is capable of.
Getting to the NCAA tourney is itself a real accomplishment, considering that the ‘Eaters finished the regular season 14-13 with an impressive home record of 9-5.
The start of the season gave UCI a difficult go, as the Anteaters in their first tournament beat No. 16 San Jose State, but then found their way into the three toughest teams they could have, taking losses to No. 1 Stanford, then No. 2 Cal and finally an exhibition loss to the Chinese National team. A slow start couldn’t stop the ‘Eaters who recovered well, especially at home where they were able to secure wins consistently.
On their longest homestead of the season that ran from March 10 through the start of April, the ‘Eaters were the victors in five of their six games. This included a big win over No. 12 Hartwick where UCI came into its own defensively, Jenna Phreaner, who would go on to be named MVP of the Big West Tournament, in that game against Hartwick had a season high 16 saves. This was a crucial turning point in the ‘Eater’s season, and gave the girls some much needed momentum heading into the later part of the season.
The ‘Eaters have found success on offense as well with three ‘Eaters eclipsing the 25 goal mark on the season. Senior attacker Allie Loomis had 25, and senior attacker Julie Swieca put up 28 goals including a hat trick back in January playing San Jose in the ‘Eaters’ first game of the season. The final Anteater to score over 25 goals was senior center Natalie Seidemann with a staggering 36 goals. This includes many stellar multi-goal performances, but none bigger than her five-goal game against UC San Diego, where she was in fact the difference maker as the ‘Eaters won that game 10-5. One offensive weapon, not listed here but worth mentioning, is freshman phenom Isabel Rack, who scrapped just below the 25 goal mark with 24 goals of her own. Rack has been a consistent part of UCI’s offensive production all year, and had a season-high four goals against rival Long Beach to close out the regular season with an 11-8 win.
Another key feature to note about the ‘Eaters as they enter the NCAA Tourney is their depth in net. Though Phreaner has been great all year, coach Dan Klatt has options. Including Morgan Jones who made 58 saves in nine games. Phreaner playing the bulk of the season has 178 saves on her 20 game season, but is undoubtedly assured by the talent of the girls behind her. As the NCAA Tournament approaches so does the prospect of Women’s Water Polo winning their first ever NCAA title.