PASADENA, Calif. (Mar. 5, 2015) – With the top two scorers leading a core of eight returning players, the Caltech women's water polo team is ready to translate the vast experience gained in 2014 to marked improvement this spring.
Although it has been nearly three years since the program's last win, last year's team showed progress throughout the season, dropping three games by three goals or fewer and trailing by just two at halftime in the SCIAC Championships season finale. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Beavers' last win will have come exactly three years prior to the 2015 home opener against Penn State-Behrend on March 10, when Caltech topped VMI, 13-11, in 2012.
"We showed incremental steps throughout 2014 and are looking to do the same this year," Head Coach Pat Beemer said. "The end goal of every team should be to win the conference championship, but that can't necessarily be done in just one or two years. Still, with this year's core and a clear desire to improve, we only can and will get better as we set a foundation for future success."
The Beavers will rely heavily on junior captain Soumya Kannan (Palo Alto, Calif. / Henry M. Gunn) to carry the offense after she led the team with 23 goals and 18 exclusions drawn as a sophomore. Soumya also ranked second on the team with 14 steals, showcasing her all-around ability that is such a critical component to the squad's competitiveness.
"I'm looking for Soumya to build off what was a big step forward in her sophomore season," Beemer said. "She is a big piece for both our offense and defense – she has by far the strongest shot on the team and is our main counterattack stopper as well."
Senior captain Shalini Majumdar (Orinda, Calif. / Miramonte), the team's primary center defender, also returns as a key contributor, having led last year's squad with 15 steals. Having shaved several seconds off her sprint times with the swim team this past winter, she is poised to bring her offensive game up to the level of her defense after scoring five goals and assisting on a team-best four.
"Shalini really improved on defense last year, and I expect her to step up on the offensive side now too," Beemer said. "She often finds herself matching up against opponents literally twice her size, but holds her own, avoids a lot of exclusions and helps us limit our two-meter goals allowed."
Another pair of returning seniors in Monica Enlow (Suwanee, Ga. / North Gwinnett) and Emily Shih (Rockville, Md. / Montgomery Blair) will play significant minutes once again. Enlow is likely to fill in at center, where All-Conference basketball junior Stephanie Wong (Palos Verdes Estates, Calif. / Palos Verdes Peninsula) could also see time in her first season on the team.
"Monica really started getting it last year, and could be primed for a solid breakout," Beemer said. "Emily played a lot of minutes for us and we'll be getting her more involved in the offense this year. Stephanie is a natural athlete and already a pretty strong swimmer, but more than that, her effort level is great. She may not always know what she should be doing yet, but you can bet she's doing it at 100 percent. The more exposure she gets, the better she is going to become, and fast."
The squad is set to get a boost from the return of senior Jing Xu (Mountain View, Calif. / Los Altos), who is likely to fill a starting position after a one-year hiatus. Sophomore Mary Boyajian (Sun Valley, Calif. / Village Christian), junior Alexandra Ilic (Austin, Texas / Westlake) and senior Liz Lawler (Portland, Ore. / Jesuit) round out the returning core and are all set to see regular time in the lineup.
"Mary started every game for us last year, while Alex also has some experience under her belt after her first season and Liz could rotate in on the attack," Beemer said.
Taking over in goal, sophomore Sasha Zemsky (Mount Kisco, N.Y. / Horace Greeley) will be the team's first new face in net over the last four years.
"Sasha was willing to give goalkeeping a shot from the first moment we needed someone, and she is coming along," Beemer said. "She should have an improved defense in front of her, and her learning curve is exponential."
A quartet of freshmen will complete the squad, with Cameron Earl (Mahomet, Ill. / Mahomet-Seymour) and Carly Robison (Saratoga, Calif. / Castilleja) expected to compete for minutes from the outset while Devi Ganapathi (La Crescenta, Calif. / Crescenta Valley) and Ciara Ordner (Niceville, Fla. / Niceville) will also try to work their way into the lineup.
"Carly has experience coming from a solid high school program and will absolutely get minutes early on," Beemer said. "Despite her diminutive stature, she has shown the ability to compete at this level. Cameron is definitely an up-and-comer, and Devi and Ciara have been working hard in practice – all the freshmen will be in the mix as we see what they have and where they're getting to."
There is no doubt that this year's Beavers squad has their work cut out, but with a more experienced core and some impactful newcomers could be ready for their game-by-game improvement to culminate in wins.
"This team has incredible potential," Beemer said. "With limited playing experience prior to college, we really have no idea what some of these women are capable of. They're all sponges for the game; the desire to get better is evident every time we touch the water. The season will certainly be interesting, and more so as it goes on."
Beemer and the Beavers open the season at the Convergence Tournament jointly hosted by Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges and Pomona-Pitzer Colleges this Friday, Mar. 6 and Saturday, Mar. 7. Caltech will face the University of La Verne at 10:00 a.m. and Chapman University at 3:20 p.m. on Friday, with Occidental College set for 9:00 a.m. and Cal Lutheran University at 3:40 p.m. on Saturday. All event details, including pools of competition, directions and video links, can be found via the team's schedule page at gocaltech.com.