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Women's Water Polo - Thu, Jan. 26, 2017

2016 Award Winners | 2016 Final Stats | 2016 National Poll

LOS ANGELES - The University of the Pacific was the unanimous choice to win the 2017 Golden Coast Conference Women's Water Polo Championship, as voted on by the league's eight head coaches. The Tigers received all seven of the available first place votes in the annual preseason coaches' poll.

2017 GCC Women's Coaches' Poll
1. Pacific - 49 points (7 first place votes)
2. San Diego State - 43 points (1)
3. LMU - 35 points
4. California Baptist - 30 points
5. Santa Clara - 26 points
6. Azusa Pacific - 21 points
7. Fresno Pacific - 12 points
8. Concordia - 8 points

Pacific earned the maximum 49 points in the poll to take the top spot. San Diego State, who has won the last three regular season titles and last year's tournament title with a thrilling one-goal win over Pacific last season, was picked to finish second with 43 points. LMU, who claimed the first two GCC tournament titles, was picked third with 35 points. Rounding out the top four was California Baptist with 30 points.

In fifth place was Santa Clara, who earned 26 points in the poll. Rounding out the eight teams was Azusa Pacific in sixth with 21 points, Fresno Pacific in seventh with 12 points and Concordia in eighth with eight points. 

The 2017 GCC Women's Water Polo Championships will be held at Santa Clara April 28-30, 2017. The winner earns the league's automatic bid to the 2017 NCAA Championships in Indianapolis.

The 2017 is underway, with three teams already underway and three more getting started on Saturday. Here is a quick preview of the upcoming season:

AZUSA PACIFIC

Azusa Pacific finished the 2016 season at 11-22 overall and 2-5 in GCC play. They advanced in the GCC Championships with a 7-3 win over Azusa Pacific and return a couple of key players that are leaders in and out of the pool. 

For Head Coach Julie Snodgrass in her sixth season, "Mar Pastor (SO/Barcelona, Spain) is a key player at a key position in center, Erica Marquez (JR/Burnaby, B.C., Canada) looking good in the cage this year, along with Megan Myers (SR/Temecula, CA) or Britt Harris (JR/Upland, CA) would be good candidates to highlight as well with their versatility and creativity.."

Harris led the team with 52 goals a year ago, adding 19 assists and 43 steals. Marquez split time in cage last year and still managed 101 saves while Myers did a little of every thing for the Cougars, scoring 26 goals with a team-high 34 assists and 18 steals. 

CALIFORNIA BAPTIST 

The Lancers had a break-out season a year ago, finishing third in the GCC Championships and wrapping up the year with a program record 23 wins. They finished 23-11 and 5-2 in GCC play. Head Coach Jon Miller is in his sixth season and returns a pair of three-year starters that will lead California Baptist into 2017.

Senior drivers Paizlee Dreyer (SR/Riverside, CA) and Valerie Spezzaferri have played in every game together the last two season, 69 games worth. Dreyer scored 24 goals with 46 assists and 26 steals a year ago. She has 72 goals and 96 assists in her three years at CBU, earning GCC All-Freshman team honors in 2014. As for Spezzaferri, she was third on the team a year ago with 49 goals and was named GCC All-Academic her three previous seasons. She added 31 steals and 21 assists last season. She has 103 goals, 65 assists and 61 steals in her career.

CONCORDIA

Concordia finished their first full season in GCC last year at 1-17 and 0-7 in league play. They continue to transition from NAIA to NCAA Division II status. They are in year three of the transition and will have one last year of transition before becoming eligible to play in the GCC postseason tournament. 

As they prepare for their final year of transition, the expected leaders for the Eagle in 2017 are junior Kelley Geurts and freshman two-meter Shannon Graham. Both are newcomers to the program. Geurts comes from Ocean View High School, graduating in 2014, while Graham is also from Ocean View High School, graduating this past June.

FRESNO PACIFIC

The Sunbirds finished the 2016 season at 9-17 overall and 1-6 in GCC play. Experienced leadership will lead Fresno Pacific into their final season in the GCC (they announced this month they will join the Western Water Polo Association in 2018).

Kaitline Groothuyzen is one of three seniors for Head Coach Bryan Suhovy, and she was named one of the team captains this season. She led the team in assists last year and is "a strong leader in and out of the water. Kaitlin brings a high level of experience and has been a starter since her freshman year. We expect her to help control the game and be a strong voice this season."

Julia Ponce (JR/Gig Harbor, WA) was the team's leading scorer as a sophomore last year and was one of the top defensive players. She was named second-team GCC All-Conference second team with 34 goals, 17 assists and 25 steals. "Now as an upperclassman she brings leadership and more confidence to this year's team," said Suhovy.

LMU

The Lions finished the 2016 season in third within the GCC at 4-3, going 11-15 overall. LMU, who won the first two GCC Tournaments in 2014 and 2015, and Head Coach Kyle Witt will look to a pair of seniors and a returning Canadian National Team goalie in 2017.

Caitlin Schafer (SR/Hollister, CA) and Kiana Etrata (SR/Orange, CA) have done a little of everything for the Lions in their previous three seasons and Witt will rely on their leadership in 2017 to balance a young roster. Schafer had 27 goals, 17 assists and led the team with 55 steals. She has played in 71 games so far in her career and has excelled defensively with 96 career steals. Etrata has played in 79 career games entering her final season and has scored 20 goals with 68 assists and 60 steals.

Returning to the Lions roster in 2017 will be Canadian National Team goalie Claire Wright. She spent the last two seasons training with the national program during the Olympic year and returns to LMU with a 7.92 career goals against average. She made 273 saves as a sophomore and enters with 55 games of experience.

PACIFIC

The TIgers finished the 2016 season in second place at 16-17 overall and 6-1 in GCC play. They reached the GCC title game, that produced a 10-9 heartache in sudden death overtime to host San Diego State. Ranked 10th in the national poll entering the season, Head Coach James Graham will rely on a pair of Canadian National Team members, sophomore Kyra Christmas (SO/Calgary, Alberta, Canada) and junior Rachel Krieger (JR/Regina, Sask., Canada)

Christmas played in four games before a shoulder injury shut her down for the rest of the season. Had a breakout first weekend for the Tigers, with 19 goals in four games. Scored four goals against No. 1 Stanford in her debut (Jan. 16), added three against No. 4 California (Jan. 16), and tallied six against No. 9 UC Davis (Jan. 17). 

A second-team All-GCC Selection, Krieger scored 61 goals in 33 games, with 31 assists for 92 points, second on the Tigers. Scored in 28 of 33 games, including the final 15 games of the season. Scored multiple goals in a game 18 times, including the last 11 games of the year. Her career high of five goals came against Santa Clara (Apr. 23).

SAN DIEGO STATE

The Aztecs have won the last three regular season GCC titles and took home the 2016 tournament title with that thrilling sudden death overtime win in their home pool. They advanced as the league's first automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament. They finished 18-19 overall and 7-0 in league play and have yet to lose a GCC regular season game.

The Aztecs will return an experienced roster for 2017 with six seniors, including a pair of first-team All-GCC selections in Alyssa Diacono (SR/Ladera Ranch, CA) and Caroline Israels (SR/Pompano Beach, FL). 

Israels did a little of everything for the Aztecs, and will enter her final season as one of the top players in the program. She led the team with 55 goals and was second in assists with 21. She also was second on the team in steals with 50 and led the team with 15 blocks. As for Diacono, she finished with 27 goals, seven assiss and 15 steals.

The Aztecs also return seniors Ioli Benekou (SR/Marousi, Greece), Makena Magro (SR/Carlsbad, CA), Mikayla Vessey (SR/Redlands, CA), Katy Schneider (SR/Anaheim, CA) and Sarah Crist (SR/Manhattan Beach, CA). 

SANTA CLARA

Santa Clara finished the 2016 season at 11-15 overall and 3-4 in GCC play. Head Coach Keith Wilbur will look to a mix of experience and youth heading into 2017.

Senior goalie Francesca Puccinelli (SR/San Francisco, CA)​ split time in cage last year starting in 16 games. She was an ACWPC All-Academic selection, making 120 saves on the season. Sophomore Hannah Buck (SO/Lafayette, CA) was named to the GCC All-Freshman Team and finished third on the team with 26 goals. She was also third on the team in drawn ejections last year as freshman.

About the GCC

The Golden Coast Conference began in 2013 with seven institutions in women's water polo and heading into '16-17, the footprint covers 14 institutions in both a men's and women's division.  The women's division includes Azusa Pacific University, California Baptist University, Concordia University Irvine, Fresno Pacific University, Fresno State University, Loyola Marymount University, San Diego State University, Santa Clara University and University of the Pacific.  The men's division includes Long Beach State University, Pepperdine University, San Jose State University, University of California Irvine, University of California Santa Barbara and University of the Pacific.