Feb. 2, 2007
On the heels of back-to-back winning seasons, UC Santa Barbara women's water polo head coach Danielle Altman will look to a combination of stellar defensive play and strong senior leadership to help guide her Gauchos to the upper echelon of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, the top water polo conference in the country that has produced every one of the NCAA Women's Water Polo Championship teams since the tournament's inception.
After losing offensive powers Jennifer D'Anna, a 2006 All-American and the second all-time leading scorer in Gaucho history, and Alaina Whitaker, the fourth UCSB all-time leading scorer, the Gauchos will look to change gears and focus on its defensive weapons in 2007.
The 2007 Gaucho lineup features a group of talented goalkeepers including three players returning from last season's squad. Senior co-captain Rosey Redaelli, junior Jenny Gonzales and sophomore Brittany May will all look to see time defending the UCSB cage along with sophomore Melanie Dyer.
"It is a constant battle in practice to see who is getting out there and being the best goalie and it is nice to have strength and depth at that position," explained Altman.
Redaelli, the Gauchos' senior goalie saw the most time between the posts last season starting 13 games and recording 76 saves and a save average of 5.5 per game. Gonzales and May, who were both new to UCSB in 2006, posted averages of 6.9 and 4.1 per game respectively.
"One of our team's focuses this year is defense and it is going to be the goalies' job to get out there and run our defense and they (Redaelli, Gonzales and May) are fully capable of doing that. The three of them are close in ability, passion and leadership. They are constantly competitive and all want what is best for the program," said Altman of her goalkeeping staff.
Guarding center this season for the Gauchos are as coach Altman describes as "three of the strongest two-meter defenders in the conference." The three players she is referring to are 2005 All-American and senior co-captain Aimee Stachowski, junior Amanda Tipton, a member of the 2006 US Junior National Team and sophomore Katlin Kubas.
Stachowski was second on the team for steals in 2006 and has consistently proven to be one of the toughest two-meter guards in the nation in her three years with the Gauchos. Tipton, who was fifth on the team during her freshman campaign with 22 goals, second amongst returning players, spent her summer competing internationally and along with Stachowski will provide the size, smarts and speed needed to shut down the conference's top centers.
Kubas, who scored four goals in her first year with UCSB, will look to see an increased roll this season. "She gets out there and has some of the longest limbs I have ever seen and she has the ability to just frustrate centers," said Altman of the sophomore.
Also contributing to center defense this season will be freshman Alisha Khan out of Campolindo High School.
"Alisha didn't do much defending in high school, but she has come in and shown a knack for it here at this level," explained Altman. Khan will also be looked at to contribute offensively and provides a great outside shot to the Gaucho's perimeter play.
Senior Sarah Kovach and freshman Lizzie Rouleau will combine to provide both experience and new blood at the two-meter position. Kovach, who scored 17 goals last season and tied the Gaucho record for most goals scored in a single game with six goals against UC San Diego in 2006, is "playing better than ever" according to Altman and is expected to provide senior leadership in the pool.
Rouleau, who comes to UCSB via Saint Francis High School, was a First Team Central Coast Section selection as a senior. The Mountain View, Calif. native will serve as the team's primary two-meter player. According to Altman, Rouleau is, "a versatile player with strong skills at center as well as a great outside shooter. She is competitive and I think this will be a breakout year for her."
Senior ZiZi Clark returns for her final campaign with the Gauchos as one of the team's top role players. Clark posted 17 goals last season and tied for a team-leading 21 assists accompanied by 17 steals. A 2007 team co-captain, Clark's role as a key distributor of the ball is expected to be paired by an increased role as one of the team's go-to scorers.
Creating double trouble for UCSB opponents will be a second Clark sister - freshman Christie Clark who according to Altman, "brings an intensity and an innate knowledge of the game." The two Clark sisters will provide an interesting dynamic, as they are able to consistently assist one another's goals and feed off of each other's energy.
Another key to the Gaucho offense will be the leading returning scorer from 2006, sophomore Gillian Morgan who tallied 23 goals for UCSB last season. Morgan possesses a strong desire to score and will serve a driver who is also capable of posting up and creating options to score near the cage.
Junior Lindsay Knott will once again provide speed to the Gaucho offense this season. The San Jose, Calif. native scored 20 goals during her sophomore campaign and is a huge counter attack threat.
Also helping the UCSB attack are seniors Allie Carkin and Teale Walheim. Carkin is sixth amongst returning goal scorers; having posted 16 points last season and her quickness will once again be an asset this season.
Walheim's strong perimeter shooting will be an asset on Gaucho power plays. Another option for goals from the outside is sophomore Kari Keach who scored just two goals in her freshman season and like Walheim, will be used for her firepower from the perimeter.
Two newcomers this season that are expected to make an immediate impact on the UCSB offense are freshmen Taylor Byrne and Emily Friedman. Byrne, a Miami, Fla. native is quickly adjusting to the California game and her speed will be a big contribution to the Gaucho counter. Friedmann comes to Santa Barbara via Miramonte High School where she earned All-Diablo Foothill Athletic League acclaim.
In 2006 the Gauchos posted their second straight winning season under Altman with an 18-17 overall mark and a 3-9 record in the ultra-competitive MPSF earning a tenth place finish during the conference's regular season. Santa Barbara ended the season with a No. 14 national ranking and senior Jennifer D'Anna earned Third Team All-MPSF honors in addition to becoming the fourth player in as many years to be named an All-American for the Gauchos.
As a member of the MPSF, the Gauchos face a league schedule in 2007 that features 2006 National Champion UCLA and top-four national finishers USC, Stanford and Hawaii. In fact, the Gauchos, who earned the No. 10 ranking in the Collegiate Water Polo Association Top 20 Preseason Coaches Poll, are scheduled to play 15 teams that are ranked and will likely face the other four in one of the many tournaments they are participating in.
Currently ranked No. 12 nationally, the Gauchos will open the season at the Cal Baptist Mini Tournament in Riverside, Calif. this Saturday, February 3. UCSB will face unranked host Cal Baptist at 10:30 a.m. followed by a 3:30 match-up with No. 15 Hartwick, which placed sixth at the 2006 NCAA Division I Women's Water Polo Championship after taking the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference crown.