Cardinal Maintains High Expectations In 2006
Stanford Women's Water Polo enters the 2006 season with enthusiasm and a passion to win, concluding last season as the NCAA and MPSF Championships runner-up team. Head coach John Tanner enters his ninth season with familiar expectations: "We want to continue the tradition of being one of the elite teams in the country", said Tanner. The Cardinal concluded 2005 with a 21-7 overall record, finishing in the top three teams at the NCAA tournament for the eighth-straight year.
Stanford returns 11 letterwinners, losing standout seniors Hannah and Kelty Luber to graduation. Hannah Luber was named to the 2005 NCAA All-Tournament First Team and both Luber sisters currently participate on the U.S. National Team training squad. "Hannah and Kelty were both tall, fast players and very effective in front of the goal", said Tanner. "They'll be hard to replace, but we have five incoming players who have all played at a high level and have a good background in the sport."
The 2006 squad will be led by seniors Laurel Champion, Nancy El-Sakkary and Scotti Shafer, who have all played major roles during their time at Stanford. "Our seniors have all contributed greatly to the program-Laurel on defense, Nancy on offense and Scotti in transition," Tanner noted. Champion and Shafer will captain the team, both relying on experience playing with the U.S. National team and in three NCAA Championships.
The Cardinal welcomes an extremely talented freshman class to The Farm in 2006. The Class of 2009 includes Koree Blyleven (San Diego, CA), Kira Hillman (Carlsbad, CA), Lauren Silver (Long Beach, CA), Jessica Steffens (Danville, CA) and Heather West (Davis, CA). "Our freshmen are a talented group," Tanner explained. "They're all good offensive players with good speed and from good water polo and aquatics backgrounds."
Tanner and his squad hope to add to the Cardinal's 2002 NCAA Championship, three NCAA runner-up finishes, as well as three MPSF Championship titles.
Cardinal Women's Water Polo by position:
Junior Meridith McColl enters her third season as Stanford's starting goalkeeper. "Meridith had a great sophomore year," said Tanner. "She was a major factor in the team's success." In 2005, McColl tallied 190 saves in 29 games and posted an impressive 3.93 goals against average. McColl was named to the MPSF All-Conference, NCAA All-Tournament and AWPCA All-American teams and was part of the U.S. team that won gold at the Junior World Championships in 2005.
Stanford will enjoy a solid group of drivers to lead the offense in 2006. "We have good speed this year, from top to bottom," Tanner noted. "Our core drivers will set the tempo of the games. Other teams will have to adjust to uptempo games." Senior Scotti Shafer and junior Katie Hansen will lead the squad at the driver position. "Scotti is constantly in motion," said Tanner. "Katie is creative and aggressive. They create and score many opportunities on offense." Shafer and Hansen combined for 69 goals last season. Stanford's leading scorer, Hansen played on two U.S. teams that won gold at the Junior Pan-American Games, as well as the Junior World Championships.
Sophomores Jacquelyn Gauthier and Megan May will also contribute at the driver position. "Jackie and Megan are good goals scorers and will add a lot to our offense this season," Tanner explained. Gauthier and May added a combined 12 goals for the Cardinal in 2005.
Freshmen Koree Blyleven, Kira Hillman, Lauren Silver and Heather West will all see time at driver. "We have an exceptional group of freshmen drivers," said Tanner. "Lauren is a good shooter and counter-attacker and we'll look for her to make an immediate impact this season."
Senior Nancy El-Sakkary and junior Christina Hewko will continue to employ their talent and experience at the two-meter player position on offense. "Nancy and Christina are very difficult to guard," said Tanner. "Nancy is powerful and strong and Christina is quick and explosive." Hewko was Stanford's second-leading scorer in 2005 with 34 goals and El-Sakkary followed closely with 33 goals. Last year, Hewko helped the U.S. to a gold-medal winning performance at the Junior World Championships, while El-Sakkary competed for Canada at the FINA World League Super Finals.
Stanford returns senior Laurel Champion and junior Alison Gregorka as the team's most experienced two-meter defenders. "Laurel and Alison both combine quickness and strength," Tanner noted. "They've good at denying the ball into the two-meter players." Gregorka was sixth on Stanford's scoring list with 16 goals and Champion contributed ten goals last season.
Freshman Jessica Steffens will also see time at two-meter defender during her first season on The Farm. "We're very excited to see what Jessica can do on defense," said Tanner.
The Cardinal will continue to maintain a challenging schedule in 2006, including two notable tournaments and conference games featuring many of the best teams in the nation. At the Santa Barbara Tournament, Stanford will play four tough games in two days. The Cardinal will host six of the top eight teams from last season at the Stanford Invitational, including the top four teams from last year's NCAA tournament and the top five teams from the MPSF.
"We'll play the top three teams in the country on the road during conference play," said Tanner. "We'll have a very difficult road schedule, but it's important that we do well since those games will determine our seeding for the MPSF tournament and qualifying for the NCAA tournament."
UC Irvine will host the MPSF tournament in late April and UC Davis will host the NCAA tournament for the first time on May 12-14.
"UCLA and USC will have most of their teams back this season, as will Cal, along with a good recruiting class," Tanner noted. "Hawaii improved a lot last season. The competition will only be tougher this year than last, but we will continue to practice, prepare and compete as a championship caliber team."