BERKELEY, Ca. - In only two years of existence as a varsity sport, the California women's water polo team has accomplished almost everything except winning the national title. The Golden Bears have quickly established themselves as one of the premier water polo teams in the country, having placed second at the national championships two years in a row. Now in the third year of the program, Cal believes it has the makeup to capture the national crown.
The Bears have a lot going for them with coach Maureen O'Toole, who is one of the top water polo players in the world; two athletes, Alisa vonHartitzsch and Kaliya Young, who are also members of their countries' national teams; as well as several experience returners and a talented freshmen class that could make the team complete.
"Essentially we have the same team as the last two years, so we are really excited because it's a luxury to have these players for a third season," said O'Toole. "We also expect Alisa and Kaliya to bring their international experience from the World Championships to the team and raise the team's level of play. We feel this year's team is more balanced and has better depth than the prior two years."
Indeed, Cal has two players, vonHartitzsch and Young, who are among the upper echelon of women water polo players in the world. VonHartitzsch was teammates with O'Toole on the United States' National Team this past January at the World Championships in Perth, Australia. Last season, she was arguably the nation's most dominating collegiate player at two-meters, scoring a phenomenal 119 goals while being named first team All-America, Collegiate National Championship MVP, Western Regional Qualifying Tournament Co-MVP and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Northern Division Player of the Year. VonHartitzsch showed her worth by scoring 13 goals in four matches at the Collegiate Nationals and had 14 goals in five matches at the Western Regional Qualifying Tournament. She led the Bears in scoring in 24 of the team's 38 matches, including the last 10 matches of the 1997 season.
Young is a member of the Canadian National Team that competed in World Championships and has been a standout for Cal the past two years. She led the Bears in scoring as a freshman with 85 goals and was second on the team with 56 goals last season while earning third team All-America, Collegiate National Championship First Team and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation First Team honors. Young scored five goals in Cal's four matches at the Collegiate Nationals.
Yet, there is much more to the Bears than just vonHartitzsch and Young. Senior driver Karen Cook and junior goalie Evi Schueller both earned third team All-America honors last year. Cook, an outstanding athlete who was a goalie on the Cal soccer team, has developed into a complete player in only her fourth year playing water polo and has amassed 56 goals in her college career. Schueller has been the Bears starting goalie since her freshman year and last season was named Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Northern Division Goalie of the Year.
Junior Melanie vonHartitzsch, junior Erin Kelley, senior captain Alicia Razzari and sophomore Heather Petri are four more veteran players who are sure to help Cal. Team captain this year, Melanie vonHartitzsch scored 38 goals last season and earned honorable mention All-America accolades. Kelley has been a starter since her freshman year, is a top two-meter defender and knocked in the game-winning goal versus UCLA in the 1996 Western Regional Qualifying Tournament final. Razzari was also the Bears team captain in '97 and is a solid all-around player. Petri is also extremely valuable to Cal with an outstanding outside shot and the ability to both set and defend two-meters.
Another outstanding young player for the Bears is sophomore Colette Glinkowski. A strong offensive threat, Glinkowski was third on the team in scoring with 44 goals last year and had four goals in Cal's four matches at the Collegiate National Tournament, including a goal versus UCLA in the title match.
Juniors Karie Gray and Beth Rasala are two more returners who could see more playing time this season and will be counted on to help the Bears fortunes. Gray is a strong outside shooter and an aggressive driver, while Rasala has improved both her offense and defense.
What can really make the Cal women's water polo team complete is the emergence of the Bears talented freshmen class--Beth Irwin, Amy Buehler, Katie Windle, Corey Miller, Kara Griffiths, Julie Arnold, Chris Lane and Shelly Johnston.
Of the Cal freshmen class, Irwin and Buehler are the leading candidates to contribute immediately. Irwin is the Bears top freshman recruit and has the ability to play both two-meters and driver. She was a high school All-American and scored an impressive 139 goals as a senior. Buehler has also impressed the Cal coaches, was a high school All-American and can play driver on offense and two-meter defense.
Windle and Miller could also see action as first-year players. Windle is an outstanding driver and good outside shooter, while Miller is a tall left-hander can help balance the Cal offense as a left-handed shooter.
"Our newcomers will help our offense because of their outside shooting," said O'Toole. "Last year we were a strong defensive team and now with our freshmen class, we are stronger offensively. Our whole team is now more balanced and more mature."