Author: Noel Hemphill
This spring, Occidental women’s water polo head coach Larry Zubrin welcomes four first-years to his group of upperclassmen that will fulfill his many goals including a dominant presence in Division III water polo standings.
“We have a talented group,” Zubrin said. “Our primary goal is to win our conference championship.”
Last year, the team was upset in overtime play during the final rounds of the SCIAC Championship Tournament after consistently performing well against top-ranked opponents during the regular season. This year, the team wants to surge past their skillful and competitive conference and proceed into the national spotlight.
With All-Americans Rachel Adeleye (senior) and Nanea Fujiyama (senior) at the helm, water polo has already started winning. The Tigers have conquered Division II teams from California State San Bernadino and Fresno Pacific University in early tournaments. These initial wins are fueling the atmosphere that Zubrin hopes to have in pursuit of a winning season.
“Our approach is to look at things internally, and it’s more about work ethic, attitude and to create an environment that’s going to lead to success,” he said. “I also want to make sure the younger players are getting good playing opportunities and that all the girls are working as a unit.”
Brianna Carroll (first-year) believes Zubrin has nothing to worry about. With herself and fellow first-years Lizzy Kosin, Zoe Namba and Lisa Najarian, who will join the squad after they finish off their season with the swim team, water polo has already begun to bond together.
“We all get along really well,” Carroll said. “There is a lot of intuitiveness on the team as many of these girls have been playing together for three or four years. We work really well as a team and we have a really good offensive strategy.”
The Tigers are well into the pre-season and have been practicing four hours per day to work on both individual skills and overall fitness. The second phase of the season is in tournaments, where the women will face competition from fellow Division III schools and pressure from Division I institutions. The third phase is conference competition in which winning games will give the Tigers a chance to challenge their fellow SCIAC schools head on.
The season culminates with the final phase where the Tigers move in to championship play, where they will have to fight off Pomona-Pitzer, Redlands, and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) to win the coveted title of conference champions in order to move on to Division III Nationals.
“This is the toughest schedule we’ve ever had,” Zubrin said. “Our big games are all SCIAC games and this is a really tough conference. Pomona-Pitzer is the early favorite and it is a big rivalry for us, while Redlands has been a thorn in our side the past couple years.”
The team remains hopeful of the possibilities the year may hold, especially the seniors who are looking at their final games in Taylor Pool. Izzy Mayer (senior) feels confident about the team enduring and conquering the competition.
“As a senior, I have seen the team improve each and every year,” she said. “I remember the low expectations of our team my freshman year, and then we went to Division III Nationals. Since then we have been trying to improve upon that season, and despite experienced players graduating, I hope this year we can finally win SCIACs with no more ties of losses in sudden death or overtime.”
Though All-American’s Corinne Casey and Tessa Bailey-Findley graduated last year, the four first-years are eager to fill in where they can while the upperclassmen step up. Zubrin considers experience his team’s biggest strength, but wants to integrate the younger players and get everyone to fit into the game plan.
“We don’t have the luxury of year round practicing like Division I schools do,” he said. “We come in at the beginning of second semester and in some sense start from scratch. The building process is the biggest challenge and we have to have them firing on all cylinders come April, but when they come together it will be huge.”
Water Polo continues their tournament games on March 2nd against California State, Northridge during the California Lutheran University Tournament.
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