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No. 3 Stanford Women's Water Polo Prepares for Hawaii and Upcoming Season
Courtesy: Stanford Athletics  
Release: 01/29/2007

Jan. 29, 2007

The Stanford women's water polo team begins its season on Friday, February 2 (4:00pm), when Hawaii comes to the Avery Aquatic Center for a re-match of the 2006 NCAA third place game where the Cardinal defeated Hawaii 8-5. Action continues on February 3-4 with the Stanford Invitational, which includes all of 2006's top five national finishers.

The Upcoming Season
The Stanford women's water polo team has established itself as one of the strongest and most consistent forces in the world of collegiate water polo, and aims to continue its success in 2007. Last year, the program captured its fourth title in the toughest women's water polo conference in the country, before nailing down a ninth-straight top-three collegiate finish. In 2007, Stanford is determined to defend its MPSF title, and claim the national title that has eluded the squad since 2002.With four All-Americans, 11 solid returners and five promising newcomers, the Cardinal has both the enthusiasm and the skills to battle its way to the top this season.

Head Coach John Tanner begins his 10th season at the helm of the Cardinal with familiar expectations. His squads at Stanford have played in all six NCAA Championships, a feat no other program in the nation has accomplished. Consistent success has set the bar high for the program.

"Like every Stanford water polo team, we set out with the intention of competing for a national championship," says Tanner. "That's true of all teams at Stanford, and it has certainly been the case every year for us. We intend to compete everyday in practice with an eye toward competing in the last game, the last tournament, the last day of the collegiate season."

The 2007 squad will be led by captains Alison Gregorka and Katie Hansen, a pair of seniors with a wealth of collegiate and international experience. Their familiarity with championship situations, including three NCAA Tournaments, makes the duo well-equipped to lead the Cardinal this season.

"Both of our captains are fully aware of what it takes to be successful at Stanford and in the world of water polo," says Tanner. "I think they will bring a lot of experience, insight and a personal drive to excel."

The two remaining seniors, Christina Hewko and Meridith McColl will also be key leaders for the Cardinal, as will juniors Jacquelyn Gauthier and Megan Nesland. The Stanford squad is rounded out by five returning sophomores and five talented newcomers.

Senior Meridith McColl returns for her fourth season in the cage, boasting more than 500 career saves. Last season, the Mission Viejo, Calif. native started all 29 games for the Cardinal and was key to the team's defensive dominance. A three-time All-MPSF honoree and a two-time All-American,McColl has been an extremely reliable goalkeeper who has been known to step up for the Cardinal in big games.

"We'll look to Meridith to anchor our defense this year," says Tanner. "Traditionally we've had the strongest defense in the country, with the lowest goals allowed per game, year in and year out. Goalkeeping has been a big part of that success."

Freshman Kate Heddleston (Granite Bay, Calif.) will also compete for time in goal for the Cardinal. The newcomer recently completed an outstanding prep career at Granite Bay High School, and was named a 2006 All-American.

"Kate is a very good athlete," says Tanner. "She has a lot of promise and we're very excited about her prospects."

Two-Meter Offensive and Defensive Players The Cardinal has solid experience at the two-meter position this season, with seniors Alison Gregorka and Christina Hewko returning to play key roles. Hewko, a three-time All-American, will be a vital part of the two-meter offense. Last season, she scored 24 times and will be once again looked upon to generate goals for the Cardinal.

"Christina is dynamic, creative and hard-nosed," says Tanner. "She's a very multi-dimensional player, who can also play very well on the perimeter."

Gregorka brings experience and strength to the Cardinal lineup, as well as the ability to contribute on both offense and defense.

"Alison is a reliable, tough defender," says Tanner."She is good at fronting, strong when she plays behind, is a good shot-blocker and counterattacks well from the two-meter position. She's very mature and poised,which is why she's such a valuable asset to our team."

Sophomore Jessica Steffens also returns to the two-meter position for the Cardinal. In her first collegiate season, the Danville, Calif. native saw significant time as a two-meter defender and proved to be a solid force in front of the goal, eager to step up and challenge some of the top offensive players from opposing teams. Freshman Alex Koran (Tustin, Calif.) rounds out the Stanford two-meter players, joining the Cardinal this season after a successful career at Tustin High School.

At the driver position, Tanner returns a solid core of players, including both of last year's top scorers. Senior Katie Hansen, a two-time All-American and three-time All-Conference player, scored 47 goals last season and tallied her 100th career goal in early April.

"Katie can score the ball in so many different ways and in different positions," says Tanner. "She is a very good passer and great goal-scorer who has been particularly effective in 6-on-5 and from the perimeter. She also finds open space really well and is a good counter-attack player."

The Cardinal also returns 2006 MPSF Newcomer of the Year Lauren Silver to the line-up. In her first collegiate season, she netted a team-leading 52 goals, scored in 26 of 29 games and led the team in scoring on 11 occasions.

"Lauren is a really strong outside shooter and made a big impact on our team and in the MPSF last year," says Tanner. "We expect that she will continue to improve and will be a critical part of our offense, providing that outside shooting threat that she showed last year."

Junior Jackie Gauthier brings a broad range of skills to the driver position, with the ability to score from the outside, attack the goal and be creative in front of the net. The Irvine, Calif. native scored 20 goals last season, including a career-high four in the season-opener. This season, she will be looked upon to continue to step up on offense for the Cardinal. Another junior, Megan Nesland, brings quickness and speed to the driver position. Nesland is a solid defensive player who can contribute in specific defensive situations.

With a year of collegiate experience under their belts, sophomores Kira Hillman, Heather West and Koree Blyleven are ready to take on significant roles for the Cardinal this season. Hillman is creative in front of the goal, a good shooter and quick on the counter-attack.West is a strong defender, whose strength and quickness make her a challenge to guard. Blyleven is known for her outside shooting power, which makes her a threat from anywhere in the pool.

In addition to the returning drivers, three Cardinal freshmen will look to make an immediate impact in 2007. Kelsey Holshouser (Santa Ana, Calif.) is a four-time All-American from Foothill High School, who is known for her clever shooting ability. Kelly Donahue (Annapolis,Md.) comes to the Farm from the East Coast where she was a standout on the Naval Academy Aquatic Club Team. Kelly Eaton (Menlo Park, Calif.), a local player from Menlo-Atherton High School, will also look to step in and make a difference for the Cardinal.

"Kelsey enjoys pressure situations and seems to be someone who will be very comfortable playing Division I water polo," Tanner says. "Kelly Donahue is an aggressive perimeter defender who has a real knack for getting herself open, creating space, creating scoring opportunities and shooting. Kelly Eaton is tenacious and one of the team's fastest counter-attackers."

Challenges Ahead
Stanford wastes no time jumping into tough competition in 2007. In the first two weeks of the season, the Cardinal takes on two of its top three conference challengers and hosts one of the most competitive collegiate water polo tournaments in the country.

"It will be a fast start to the season this year," comments Tanner. "We'll have a pretty clear idea of what challenges we face by the end of that first month."

"Our conference is extremely challenging," says Tanner. "It usually has eight or nine of the top-10 collegiate teams and is far and away the best conference in the country. It's the most competitive from top to bottom. There are just no easy games in the MPSF."

This season, Stanford has a chance to face some of its top conference opponents in its home pool, however. The home schedule his highlighted with games against USC on February 17 and UCLA on April 14. On April 20, the Cardinal heads to Cal for the Big Splash, a battle that has traditionally been the most highly-anticipated dual match in college water polo.



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