Photo by Michael Wong, others by Noelle Davis
PASADENA (Mar. 2, 2017) – For the first time in program history, two All-Americans return for Caltech women's water polo as the Beavers look to build on last year's record-tying three wins.
"This team's maturity level, experience and focus is so much higher than last year," Head Coach Jon Bonafede said. "We're picking up right where we left off. Last year we spent most of our time working on fundamentals and simple concepts, but this year we're able to put those right into practice. We'll be looking to play some different defenses, create more scoring threats and just expand what we throw at teams this season."
Sophomores Katie Johnston (Livermore, Calif. / Livermore) and Brittany Percin (Lake Tahoe, Calif. / Stanford Online) return after recording the two most impressive rookie seasons in program history which culminated in dual ACWPC Honorable Mention All-America honors. Percin missed the first four games while swimming for Caltech but still finished just four goals shy of the single-season program record, while Johnston claimed the single-game record with nine goals in just her second collegiate competition. Both were tremendous all-around assets, combining for 76 of the team's 156 goals, 34 assists, 84 steals, 78 exclusions drawn and 25 field blocks, with Johnston ranking second on the squad in assists and Percin winning nearly 70 percent of her sprints.
"Brittany is making an immediate impact after swim season and Katie has benefitted from being challenged earlier in the preseason than last year," Bonafede said. "Both have been great mentors within the program as the whole team has really dedicated themselves and committed to getting better every day."
Those two are joined by the program's newly minted all-time assists leader, senior Mary Boyajian (Sun Valley, Calif. / Village Christian), for one final season. Boyajian took a massive step forward as a junior, upping her assists total from a mere three in her second year to a program-record 34 in 2016 while also firing home 17 goals, making 32 steals and 12 field blocks and drawing 13 exclusions. Another senior, Sasha Zemsky (Mount Kisco, N.Y. / Horace Greeley), will provide veteran leadership and has the opportunity to earn additional minutes after tallying four assists, four steals, four exclusions drawn and three blocks in limited action.
"Mary reads the game so well on both sides of the ball – she sees everything and makes the right decisions," Bonafede said. "She's always on the same page with what Katie and Brittany are doing and has been working on her defensive positioning that will help her anticipatory skills lead to even more steals. Sasha is going to be expected to play big minutes after gaining a lot of experience last year. She put a ton of work in over the offseason, both in and out of the pool, that really shows."
Juniors Cameron Earl (Mahomet, Ill. / Mahomet Seymour) and Devi Ganapathi (La Crescenta, Calif. / Crescenta Valley) and sophomore Hana Keller (Sammamish, Wash. / Tesla STEM) are all in the mix to fill the voids left by the graduation of Soumya Kannan and Alex Ilic. All three played limited but crucial roles last year, but each brings a specific strength to the team that Bonafede insists is essential to the team's game plan.
"Cameron, Devi and Hana have always had the skills to succeed in certain roles, but now they have a better swim base and more knowledge to put those to use," Bonafede said. "Cameron is a physical defender who we're going to rely on to guard more. Devi's outside shot has really developed and Hana has the arm to be a threat where both should be able to score when we get them open looks."
Although significantly limited in their ability to contribute last spring, junior Ciara Ordner (Niceville, Fla. / Niceville) and sophomore Gemma Takahashi (San Jose, Calif. / Leland) are eager to contribute. Ordner's sophomore season was cut drastically short due to injury, while Takahashi walked on following the swim season with no water polo experience and spent the spring learning everything she could. Both will play impactful roles in 2017, with Ordner splitting time between the field and goal while Takahashi focuses on how best to utilize her All-Conference sprinting ability.
"Ciara has been a very invested teammate and is willing to sacrifice some time in the field to play an important role for us in goal," Bonafede said. "Her biggest focus this year will be staying healthy, and we know she can make an impact. Gemma is such a ball of energy with a lot of raw talent. She may not have any formal training, but she is a natural in the water and I have high expectations for a breakout from her."
Freshmen Sarah Kreider (River Forest, Ill. / Oak Park and River Forest) and Mackenzie Wooten (Las Vegas, Nev. / Northwest Career and Tech. Acad.) walked onto the team in early January but have gotten up to speed exceedingly quickly. Kreider will shoulder the bulk of the workload between the posts, while Wooten's innate offensive mindset should be particularly useful as Bonafede opens up the offense in his second season. Women's basketball rookie Sam D'Costa (San Jose, Calif. / St. Francis) also recently joined the squad at the conclusion of the winter season – her raw athleticism and strong arm will be welcome additions.
"We've gotten a big boost from the freshman class," Bonafede said. "Sarah stepped in and accepted a tough role in the line of fire without hesitation. She is incredibly coachable and is picking things up very quickly. Macka is a quiet player whose favorite thing in the world is just putting a ball in the back of the net. She's not afraid to be physical and has a good sense for how to position herself to receive a pass and score. We're excited to see what Sam can do after getting a look at her versatility and passing ability in basketball."
Bonafede and the Beavers, who have received votes in the last four CWPA Division III polls, open their season at the Claremont Convergence this Friday-Saturday, Mar. 3-4 before hosting Penn State-Behrend on Tuesday, Mar. 7 at 5 p.m.
"We're excited to finally have the full squad together," Bonafede said. "We know what we do well and are focusing on creating good opportunities to play to our strengths. We're going to get down the pool quicker, limit turnovers and run a balanced, effective offense. After two months of preseason, we're ready to get into some games and compete."