Jan. 25, 1997
1997 Season Outlook
BERKELEY, Calif. -- The California women's water polo team wasted little time in establishing itself as a national powerhouse last season when it placed second in the nation to UCLA in its first year as a varsity sport. So, it is only natural that the Golden Bears have one goal in mind entering the 1997 season--a national title.
Although Cal had success in 1996, it is not going to be easy in '97. Maureen O'Toole's squad is talented, but still young with seven freshmen, 10 sophomores, three juniors and two seniors. The Bears return all the key players except for first team All-American Courtney Johnson, who just happened to be the best collegiate water polo player in the nation last year, earning National Championship, Western Regional and MPSF Northern Division Most Valuable Player honors.
"Last year was definitely different because we had Courtney (Johnson), who was such a great player," explained O'Toole, who was selected the 1996 National Coach of the Year by the American Water Polo Coaches Association. "But, the team is now deeper with a year of experience, and the experience of playing for a national championship. We are not going to sneak up on anybody because everybody knows we are good. We lost Courtney, but we have a lot of people back and an outstanding new two-meter player in Alisa von Hartitzsch."
A junior transfer from Brown, Alisa von Hartitzsch is a different type of player than Courtney Johnson, who was a quick, cagey driver. A member of the U.S. National Team, von Hartitzsch is a fast swimming, strong inside player and an exceptional scoring force from two-meters. She has thrived at Cal after earning third team All-America honors last year at Brown.
The Bears top returner from 1996 is sophomore two-meter Kaliya Young. Young, a member of the Canadian National Team, was Cal's leading scorer last year as a freshman, tallying 85 goals and earning first team All-America honors, as well as first team accolades at the National Championships, Western Regionals and Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. She is an exceptional two-meter defender, giving the Bears the nation's top two-meter offensive player in von Hartitzsch, and top two-meter defender in Young.
Other key returners for Cal include sophomore goalie Evi Schueller, senior driver Karen Cook, junior driver Alicia Razzari and sophomores Melanie von Hartitzsch and Erin Kelley.
Schueller did an excellent job as a first-year goalie last season, tallying 201 saves in 33 matches and earning second team All-America honors. She played exceptionally well in the Western Qualifying Tournament, recording 16 saves in five matches. Cook, who was a goalie on the Cal women's soccer team, was a team captain in water polo in '96 and was the squad's third-leading scorer with 30 goals. Razzari is a motivational leader and one of the team captains this season after scoring 11 goals last year and earning MPSF Northern Division second team honors.
Both Melanie von Hartitzsch and Erin Kelley had fine freshmen years and are even better in '97. Melanie, a team captain and the younger sister of Alisa, has improved immensely from last year when she was the team's fourth leading scorer with 22 goals and was a MPSF Northern Division first team selection. Kelley is also a better all-around player this year and is one of the team's top two-meter defenders. Last season, she scored 19 goals and nailed the game-winning shot against UCLA in the championship match of the Western Qualifying Tournament, giving the Bruins their only loss of the '96 season.
The Bears also feature junior driver Karie Gray and the strong freshmen class of Colette Glinkowski, Heather Petri, Keri Hoover and Beth Sprinkle.
Gray is only in her second year of playing water polo but is an excellent athlete, one of the fastest swimmers on the team and a top outside shooter. She should be one of the first players off the bench after scoring 18 goals last year. Glinkowski is already a strong offensive player with a good outside shot. Both Petri and Hoover are tall two-meter players with outstanding potential and will help bolster the Bears this season. Sprinkle is a left-hander who could help with her outside shooting, as well as her two-meter setting.
Other players who will provide depth for Cal include seven returners--sophomore goalie Lisa Berquist, senior Jen Chan, sophomores Brooke Spittler, Beth Rasala, Tiffiny Duncan, Kate Brown, Elisa Sue--plus redshirt freshman Sabrina Nespeca.
"Our girls are still learning the game and how fast they learn this season is unknown," said O'Toole. "The team is focusing on reaching its peak at the end of May. I'm excited because we are young and I will have this team for awhile and can teach them a lot. They have so much to learn that I am able to teach them something new everyday."