Feb. 4, 2010
LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Women's water polo came to LMU in 1998 and with it the arrival of head coach John Loughran, who was to oversee both the men's and women's water polo program as well as the women's swim team.
Since then, a lot has taken place.
The swim team has its own coach and won a conference title several years ago.
The men's water polo program has won three straight titles twice, the most recent run coming in November when they won their seventh title in nine years with Loughran at the helm.
Just three years after playing its first season, women's water polo won their first conference title in 2001. Loughran then build one of the most successful programs in school history, winning five straight titles, playing for the 2004 national title and winning seven WWPA titles in nine years.
This past summer, LMU continued to take strides in making the Lions one of the nation's best, when the men's and women's programs were allocated their own head coach.
Loughran leaves the women's program with a 256-109 record and hands the reigns to a former player and assistant, Kyle Witt.
Witt was a four-time all-conference selection in the WWPA for the Lions, leading the team to its first conference crown in 2001. He then helped the Lions claim three titles as an assistant.
"With the vision and support from the athletic department and the University, John has built both programs into perennial WWPA title contenders with a national reputation as one of the most dangerous programs to play," said Witt. "I intend to continue down the path that Coach Loughran has forged as we look to take the next step in developing into a NCAA title defender year in and year out."
He takes over a team in 2010 that is poised to continue building on the Lions' winning tradition. The 2010 squad returns 16 players off a team that claimed its seventh WWPA Championship in nine years with a convincing 8-4 win over host Santa Clara in the title game and finished 26-9 on the year overall and a perfect 13-0 against the WWPA. The seven conference titles is the most by any team in LMU history, tied with the men's team, who won their seventh in November.
"Heading into 2010, we are looking to build upon the success of the previous season and continue our development into a national title contender," says Witt. "Everyone is getting used to a change in both playing and coaching style quite nicely and I anticipate that we will be quite a formidable opponent fairly quickly as we begin our competition schedule."
Among those 16 returning are three All-Americans, including senior Anne Scott. In her first season at LMU after transferring from American River Community College, she made quite the impact in water polo and swimming. She helped the Lions to a second place finish while being named the PCSC Swimmer of the Year. For the water polo team, she was named Honorable Mention All-American, First-Team WWPA All-Conference and WWPA Newcomer of the Year. She was second on the team in goals with 58, first on the team in assists with 34 (tied with Casey Flacks) and second on the team in steals with 53. She also earned WWPA Player of the Week honors on April 15 for scoring four goals against UCSD.
Junior Diana Romero ranked fifth on the team with 31 goals and was named honorable mention All-America, second-team All-WWPA and second-team WWPA All-Tournament thanks to her 33 steals and 12 field blocks. Joining Romero as an honorable mention All-American was Casey Flacks. The freshman came on strong at the end of the season, earning WWPA All-Freshman Team and first-team WWPA All-Tournament honors. She was tied for the team lead in assists with 34 and second in steals with 50.
"Very few squads return an All-Americans, let alone three," said Witt. "Anne, Diana and Casey earned their awards as hard working players and they will have to continue the hard work in order to both succeed within our team concept and to potentially gain the individual recognition once again. Anne became one of the nation's best through her counter attacking and finishing capabilities, Diana earned her recognition through defending the toughest position in the pool tirelessly, and Casey earned her honors through her relentless offensive drive and her ability to make up for defensive breakdowns with big plays."
Also returning is junior Mary Ann Campos, who was third on the team with 44 goals, and sophomore Kimberly Benedetti, who was one of three first-year players to earn a spot on the WWPA All-Freshman team and fourth on the team in goals with 38. Another newcomer for the Lions last year was Daisy Carrillo. The transfer had 11 goals and 21 assists in 22 games in her sophomore season.
Sophomore Elise Ponce, a member of the All-Freshman team, and senior Eliana Arellano, split time in net for the Lions. Ponce made a team-high 148 saves, including 19 in the win over Long Beach State while the junior Arellano came on strong at the WWPA Tournament, playing in 10 of the 12 quarters, including the entire games in the semifinal and final wins. She allowed just 3.3 goals per game at the tournament and is tops in the WWPA with a goals against average of 7.15. She has moved to third all-time in LMU history with 385 career saves.
While the Lions return a lot of experience, the offense will take on a whole new look, largely due to the loss of graduated senior Nicole Hughes. She used her final season to solidify her status as the most prolific scorer in LMU history and in the process she earned second-team All-America honors, as well as WWPA Player of the Year and WWPA Tournament MVP honors. She led the team and the WWPA with 129 goals in 2009. She went on to shatter the single-game record for goals with eight, the single season record and the career record with 320.
In 2009, the high-powered offense had 372 goals, which was six shy of the all-time record. For Witt, while the Lions lost the school's all-time leading scorer, a new offensive system could very well put up high numbers.
"When you graduate a player of Nicole's ability, you are going to have a huge hole in your major categories like goals and ejections earned. Our team understands that no one player is going to step in and replace those statistics but instead with everyone sharing the work load, we can become a more balanced team that is tougher to defend," said Witt. "Nicole will surely be missed both in and out of the water, but everyone has quickly adapted to their new and increased roles."
The Lions also return a group of experienced players who have combined to play 140 games as a group last year and Witt hopes they will step in and give the Lions the depth needed to compete among the nation's best. Returning is junior Kim Shales (20 games in 2009), senior Carrie Kosnik (31 games, 11 goals), redshirt sophomore Hana Gosney (21 games, 4 goals), junior Katlin Sherrin (31 games, 4 goals), senior Meghan Moore (18 games), junior Katie Fletcher (5 games), sophomore Aimee Goodwin (4 games), and senior Gina Castagnola (14 games).
"When it comes to the core of our team, I think everyone can see that we have returned a wealth of experience and depth. A characteristic of any championship team is unselfishness amongst the players in working towards a common goal." said Witt. "We have many committed individuals that are excited for their new roles within our playing system and if everyone keeps working hard and expanding their abilities within their roles; everyone will have a successful season that should result in us reaching our team goals."
In building the Lions' championship run, the Lions have used key newcomers to step in and give big minutes.
"We have always had a few freshmen come in and make an immediate impact and this season will surely be no different," said Witt. "I expect our newcomers to adapt quickly to the style of NCAA competition and to grow as individuals as they gain more playing time and confidence. Patience by both the coaching staff, team, and the freshmen themselves, is key as they learn more through their mistakes than through their success."
Leading the way for the Lions will be USC transfer Kristine Cato. The redshirt freshman goalie, at 6-2, gives the Lions a big presence on the defensive side. Joining Cato will be freshmen Sophie Howard, Camille Hopp, Erin Manke, Michelle Slagle, Jessica Morelos, Tammy Choy and Morgan Bonk.
For Witt, this year's incoming class has talent to step in right away. Cato, who was a member of the junior national team and high school All-American, was highly regarded out of high school and was considered one of the nation's best young goalies. Joining her in junior national team experience is Manke. In four years playing in the national team program, she has scored nearly 300 goals. Another All-American was Hopp, who was a four-time swimming All-American and a two-time All-American in water polo. And like Manke, Howard brings national team experience, but for Howard it was in New Zealand.
"Cato spent the year red-shirting at USC before she transferred to us and she will need to knock the rust off quickly as she gets back into the competition pool for the first time in over 16 months," said Witt. "Manke is a lefty who spent some time with the US National Junior Team this past summer and her experiences will be called upon early as she makes the transition to the college game.
"Sophie played this past summer with the New Zealand National Junior Team and she is making the transition nicely into the American style of play. Her offensive skill set will make it tough for me to keep her on the bench for very long. Camille is joining our squad once she completes her season with the swim team in mid-February and she learns her new role within our system."
Over the past decade, no matter the pieces, the Lions have managed to turn it into titles. And once again the Lions have some new pieces, including at the top, but like always, the expectations are the same.