NCAA.com Notebook: Building A Gaucho Winner

Feb. 16, 2010

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

Parity continues to be the word that best describes the women's game as we had a pair of top ten teams get knocked off by competition that they had beaten convincingly the week before. From East to West, there were a number of tournaments highlighting the water polo schedule. The action in the pool is beginning to get warmer and it should only heat up further as the season continues to progress.

Before we begin our dive into the national scene, I got a chance to speak with one of the legends of our sport during the week. Three-time Olympian and current UCSB head coach Wolf Wigo has a squad that is quietly building into one that can be a contender on the national scene. We sat down to discuss his team and their Big West title prospects and below is our interview.

Your team has played an aggressive schedule to start the season. UCSB has already taken on Hawaii, Cal and Stanford along with a host of other ranked teams. How does this prepare you for the Big West race?

The more challenging the schedule, the better your team will be at the end of the season. It is great experience and it has been challenging at times. I thought we played well against Stanford but were just overmatched. We really played a great game against Hawaii.

Christie Clark was UCSB's second leading scorer in 2008 and is returning after a redshirt season. Can you tell us what she brings to the table?

Christie brings a lot of energy. She has a great game sense and can score the ball effectively.

Ruth Milne is a freshman who has come in with a lot of hype as she was a U.S. Junior National team player and participated in the Speedo Top 40. I noted that she had fifteen saves in your win over UC Davis at the Triton Invitational. Can you tell us about her and what you think she can be?

Ruth is the biggest difference that we have from last season. She is an enormous presence in the cage. Having her has given us more confidence on our counterattack.

The highlight game on this weekend's docket was between second-ranked USC and a seventh-ranked Loyola Marymount squad that rolled through last weekend's Triton Invitational. For the first half of this contest, it was anybody's ballgame. LMU led 1-0 after the first stanza and were only down 3-2 at the half. However, USC's class showed in the second half as they shut out the Lions while scoring six goals themselves to earn a 9-2 victory. Nadia Dan and Joelle Bekhazi each scored two goals to lead the Trojans. Loyola Marymount's Kristine Cato was impressive in defeat as she recorded fifteen saves.

Top-ranked Stanford and third-ranked California both won in their only action this week. Stanford received an early scare from Sonoma State as the Cardinal were locked in a 4-4 tie at the end of the first quarter and only held a 7-5 halftime lead. However, the Cardinal woke up in the second half to finally put the Seawolves away. Stanford used a six goal third quarter to pull away from Sonoma State and ended up winning by a 17-6 count behind four goals from Pallavi Menon. Meanwhile, California jumped out to a 5-2 halftime lead and never looked back in defeating eleventh-ranked San Jose State. Stephanie Peckham's eleven saves led the way for the Golden Bears.

Twelfth-ranked UC-Irvine had a big weekend as they knocked off tenth-ranked San Diego State as well as UC-San Diego. Against San Diego State, UC-Irvine survived a late Aztec comeback to win 6-5. Lauren Davis and her ten saves led the Anteaters to the winner's circle. This win was sweet revenge for UC-Irvine as they lost 10-5 last weekend to San Diego State. Against UC-San Diego, Jessica Cardey pumped home the game-winner with 2:03 left for UC-Irvine. Senior Kat Plummer scored four times to propel the Anteaters. UC-Irvine is a team that was expected to contend not only for the Big West title but to stay on the fringes of the NCAA at-large race. An early blowout loss to Arizona State along with defeats last weekend at the Triton Invitational to both Loyola Marymount and San Diego State called that into question. Perhaps this weekend will serve as the beginning of an Anteater rally up the rankings.

Thirteenth-ranked Cal State Northridge had the kind of weekend that will get the water polo public buzzing. Northridge put up a respectable showing in a 9-5 defeat versus fourth-ranked UCLA. The Matadors followed that up with an outstanding performance at the Roadrunner Invitational on Sunday as they impressively upset ninth-ranked Hartwick. Cal State Northridge outscored Hartwick 6-2 in the second half to pull away for a 12-7 win. Sydney Sonoda scored five goals while Jillian Stapf was her usual dominant self in compiling twelve saves. This win avenges the 12-8 loss that Northridge suffered to Hartwick at last weekend's Triton Invitational. The Matadors are quietly 9-2 and have a great chance of moving into the national top ten this week.

Nineteenth-ranked Indiana stole the show at the Bison Invitational as the Hoosiers went undefeated on the weekend. Indiana defeated Marist, Villanova, Siena and host Bucknell by a combined score of 49-17. Jakee Kohli and Nicole Redder both had big weekends for an Indiana team that is now riding a six game winning streak. Keep an eye on Indiana in the CWPA as the Hoosiers could play the role of spoiler against the more ballyhooed Michigan or Hartwick squads. All four of Indiana's losses are to ranked teams. Look deeper and you will find that their loss to San Jose State was only by two while losses to fourteenth-ranked UC-Santa Barbara and sixteenth-ranked Cal Baptist were each by one with the UCSB defeat coming in overtime.

Player of the Week
Jillian Stapf, Cal State Northridge, Sr.: Stapf is a two-time All-American who already owns the Northridge single season and career saves records. Arguably the best goalie in the nation, Stapf had a brilliant weekend. Her twelve saves against ninth-ranked Hartwick was key in Northridge pulling the upset.

Game to Watch
Fourth-ranked UCLA travels to third-ranked California on Saturday night. This is a rematch of their game at the Stanford Invitational which California won 4-3. This is a critical conference test between two teams that will both be in the race for an NCAA at-large bid. Cal finished second at the Stanford Invitational and has been playing like a Final Four contender. It is important that they keep that momentum going and win this home matchup with UCLA. A loss here would put a damper on what has been a great start to the season.