Women’s water polo’s victories against No. 19 Harvard and Brown last weekend could not have come at a better time for GW.
It had been 14 years since the Colonials (13-13, 3-5 CWPA) beat the Crimson, and six since they downed the Bears. The win against Brown gave the Colonials their third and final Collegiate Water Polo Association win of the regular season – the first time in 13 years GW won more than two conference games in a year.
Now the Colonials are heading into the CWPA Championship next weekend with a renewed confidence in their ability to compete with – and even beat – the very teams they lost to so many times before.
“They started to understand that maybe we were better than people wanted to give us credit for, and maybe than they were willing to give themselves credit for,” head coach Barry King said.
This season, the Colonials have adjusted to a new coach, six rookies on the roster and a returning group of seven seniors who have played under three coaches in their four program years.
As the No. 6 seed, the Colonials are slated to play No. 3 Hartwick in the CWPA Championship quarterfinals Friday in Lewisburg, Pa. This is the second time the teams will meet this season. Earlier this month, the Hawks beat GW 20-10 at their opening weekend of CWPA play in Cambridge, Mass.
Sophomore goalkeeper Samantha Runyon said having a group of freshmen who ended up being just as good – if not better – than the seniors, forced players to find and settle into new roles in the pool.
“Toward the end of the season we’ve really figured out our roles and how to work together instead of almost against each other,” Runyon said.
The Colonials have worked past a slew of injuries that disrupted the team’s lineup, including junior goalkeeper Katherine Moeller and freshman utility player Dara Bleiberg, whose 34 goals in the season make her one of the top three scorers on the squad.
King said having a deep bench has been “gigantic,” especially at this time of the season when the physicality of the game catches up with players.
Senior utility player Scarlett Hallahan said the team’s recent success came because the Colonials started to play as a team, rather than individual players trying to play “hero ball.”
“We finally had everyone trust one another and realize that if we just play how we know how to play we’re going to be fine,” Hallahan said.
Years of losing have been “discouraging,” Hallahan said, but the team can continue pushing forward and building on the foundation of selfless play set by her and fellow seniors. She added the team must make every game and practice count toward the greater team goal of winning the CWPA Championship.
“We have always been told, and we’ve always seen, the potential of where this team can go,” Hallahan said. “We’re finally where we want to be, and where we should be, as we finish out. And I think we’ve done a really good job.”
The team’s goal for the tournament is to clean up their offensive play and reduce unforced errors, Hallahan said. In their last meeting with the Hawks, the Colonials gave up eight goals in the first quarter, many of which stemmed from sloppy play, she said.
“I think there’s a good chance Hartwick is looking past us,” Hallahan said. “They are a higher seed and that’s naturally how things go. So I think that can be used to our advantage.”
King said this year’s tournament is the most competitive he’s seen in his time as a coach in the league, and seeding is no indication of which teams will win and lose. After their game against Hartwick, the Colonials will either face Michigan – who the Colonials lost to 20-9 earlier this month – or Brown again.
“That’s the difference I think,” Hallahan said. “Really feeling like you belong and that you deserve success just as much as everyone else. Because we have put the work in, so now let’s earn it, let’s finish it up.”
Heading into the tournament, the Colonials have already surpassed the total number of goals scored last season and made 30 more assists. With three freshmen in the team’s top three scoring positions, King said the rookies need to be prepared for a higher intensity game.
“This tournament is unlike anything else that they’ve ever played in because this will be nearly my 20th conference championship in the CWPA and the one constant is that it’s a brand new season for everybody,” King said.
The Colonials will face Hartwick Friday at 3 p.m. in the quarterfinals of the CWPA Championships.