After 16 years without a winning season, women’s water polo’s season opener represents not only the start of a new season, but the beginning of a quest to end the drought.
The Colonials kick off their 2020 campaign with two back-to-back doubleheaders against La Salle and Villanova Saturday and Salem and Saint Francis Brooklyn Sunday. Head coach Barry King, said one of his top focuses this season is to demonstrate growth and improvement throughout his program.
“We need to show progression,” King said. “We need to show that we can get better and contribute to the success of the program overall. We want to compete as hard as we can. At the end of the day, in terms of looking forward, it’s about future players knowing that this is a place where they can come and be challenged and be valuable.”
For the second year in a row, GW os fielding a smaller roster than in previous years and its smallest since 2010 with 13 players. Four players – senior center Emma Shaffer, senior utility Ally Jochim, sophomore utility Abbie Lukas and junior utility Jaleh Moaddeli – did not return from last season. Moaddeli had a team-high 49 steals and 28 assists last season.
GW added three freshmen, a redshirt freshman transfer from Loyola Marymount and a graduate student transfer from Whittier College.
The squad is led by junior utility player Alana Ponce, who ranked first on the team in her sophomore season in goals scored (48) and second in steals (33) and assists (16). King said Ponce adds leadership and problem-solving skills to the team, enabling young players to take more risks and break out of their shells.
“A lot of these younger players typically come from situations where their playing style is so direct, they don’t know how to take some risks and find solutions,” King said. “And that’s what the leadership is about, letting them know that it’s OK to try something new and even if doesn’t go right, talk about how we can make it go right.”
As one of the standout players of GW’s roster, Ponce is frequently a target of opposing team’s defenders. But King said she is prepared for that treatment after last season.
Ponce is graduating a year early, making the 2020 season her last with the Colonials. She will have one year of eligibility left and said she has considered playing abroad.
“It’s weird to think I’ve gone through the last 15 years of my life just dedicating time and effort to water polo and I love it,” Ponce said. “I know I’m going to miss it, but I know that it will help me get into other things.”
GW failed to crack the top-five of the seven member teams in the CWPA preseason rankings, clocking in at the sixth spot with 44 points – beating Saint Francis by one point to avoid the bottom of the rankings. No. 5 Brown received 80 points.
GW did not fare much better in the week one or two polls, receiving 16 points in the first week and none at all in the second week.
The Colonials closed last season with a 6-15 overall record. In 2018, the squad notched a 14-16 record, its best finish since 2013, when the squad went 17-17.
Looking ahead to the start of the season, senior utility player Allison DeCicco said the team has been conditioning and expanding its fitness ahead of the back-to-back doubleheaders.
“A lot of swimming, a lot of getting our heart rate up, ball handling stuff, just so we’re ready to work as a team and play four games with a smaller bench than usual,” DeCicco said.
She added that promoting team cohesion has been a main focus of the preseason as the squad ushers in several new players.
“I’m really excited to get started and see where we’re at,” DeCicco said. “You can only do so much in practice playing each other, so it will be exciting to be all on the same side and all getting to compete against other teams and seeing what we can accomplish as the 12 of us.”
The Colonials are back in action Saturday to take on La Salle and Villanova. Swim off is slated for 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., respectively.