1996 Season in Review
In its first year of existence as an NCAA varsity sport, the California women's water polo team almost pulled off the amazing feat of winning the national title in its inagural season.
The Golden Bears fell to UCLA, 8-4, in the title match of the Collegiate Women's Water Polo National Championship, May 12 in Davis, CA. Cal finished the season 32-6 overall and served notice to the water polo community that the Bears wasted little time in establishing themselves as a national power.
Cal was led by the play of senior driver Courtney Johnson, who was selected the Most Valuable Player of the national championships. Johnson scored 13 goals in the Bears five national tournament matches, helping lead Cal to a 11-0 victory over Michigan State, a 8-2 victory over UC Davis, a 6-1 win over UC San Diego and a 8-2 semifinal win over No. 2 ranked and previously undefeated Slippery Rock. In the final match, the No. 3 ranked Bears could not repeat their earlier performance against No. 1 ranked UCLA. Cal had handled the Bruins their only loss of the season with a 8-7 victory in the championship match of the Western Regional Qualification Tournament Apr. 28 at UCLA.
"It was an exceptionally great season for us," said head coach Maureen O'Toole, whose team consisted of one senior, four juniors, three sophomores and 11 freshmen. "I'm so proud that they got to the national championship match, but to get that close and lose, it hurts. When I sit back and look at the season, though, the team was such an enjoyable group to work with. They always gave a 110 percent in practice and never complained. It was a great season."
Besides Johnson, the Bears were led by freshman two-meter sensation Kaliya Young, who was Cal's top scorer in '96 with 85 goals and joined Johnson on the national championship all-tournament team. Earlier in the season, Johnson was named Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Northern Division Player of the Year, as well as Western Regional Player of the Tournament, while O'Toole was named Northern Division Coach of the Year.
In June, Maureen O'Toole was selected the 1996 Women's Collegiate I Division Coach of the Year by the American Water Polo Coaches Association. Also honored by the American Water Polo Coaches Association were Cal athletes Johnson, Young, freshman goalie Evi Schueller and junior driver Karen Cook. Johnson and Young were named first team All-Americans, Schueller earned second team All-America honors and Cook was a third team All-American.