NCAA PREVIEW: Winning with Defense

Lions play UC Irvine in first round of NCAA championships.

May 10, 2012

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For the ninth time since 2001, the LMU women's water polo program will appear in the National Collegiate Women's Water Polo Championships, just one shy of the school record of 10 held by its women's volleyball program. The Lions earned the automatic bid from the Western Water Polo Association, winning the league title for the ninth time in 12 years. The Lions will open with UC Irvine on Friday, May 11 at 5:15 p.m.



With the three wins at the WWPA Championships April 27-29 at UC San Diego, the Lions improved to 20-9 on the season, reaching at least 20 wins for the 12th straight year. This season the Lions are a perfect 13-0 against WWPA foes and finished 7-2 at home. This season has been all about the defense for third-year Head Coach Kyle Witt, and defense came through in the end. Goalie Elise Ponce made 14 saves in the WWPA title game and was named tournament MVP, adding to her first-team all-conference selection. Senior captain Casey Flacks, the program's all-time leader in assists and kickouts drawn, was named the WWPA Player of the Year and first-team all-conference. She is the 10th different Lion to earn the league's top honor since 2001. Sophomore Alexandra Honny scored nine goals in the championships to give her 77 on the season, ranked third all-time in LMU history. She was a first-team All-WWPA and first-team WWPA All-Tournament selection. All told the Lions had seven members on the league's postseason honors list, including senior Kimberly Benedetti (2nd-team All-WWPA) junior Erin Manke (honorable mention All-WWPA) and freshmen Mackenzie Beck and Laura Lopez (WWPA All-Freshman). Beck was also first-team WWPA All-Tournament, along with senior Whitney Delgado, thanks in large part to leading the Lions with four goals in the WWPA title game.

Fresh off their ninth Western Water Polo Association Championship, the seventh-ranked LMU women's water polo team have earned the fifth seed and will face fourth seeded UC Irvine in the first round of the 2012 National Collegiate Women's Water Polo Championship on Friday, May 11 in the final game of the day at 5:15 p.m. The championship will be held May 11-13 at the Aztec Aquaplex, in San Diego, with San Diego State serving as the host school. The championship will be an eight-team, single-elimination tournament (total of 12 games) with a losers' bracket to determine places three through eight. Automatic qualifiers were awarded to the Big West Conference (UC Irvine), Collegiate Water Polo Association (Princeton), Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (Iona), Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (UCLA), Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (Pomona-Pitzer) and the Western Water Polo Association (LMU). Stanford and Southern California received at-large bids to the championship field. The No. 1 seed was awarded to Stanford (23-2) and the No. 2 seed was awarded to UCLA (21-3). UCLA will face No. 7 seed Iona (24-11) May 11 in the first game of the championship at 3 p.m. ET. The next game will feature No. 3 seed Southern California (21-5) and No. 6 seed Princeton (28-4) at 4:45 p.m. ET followed by Stanford and Pomona-Pitzer (21-16) in the third game of the day at 6:30 p.m. ET.

The Lions and Anteaters will meet for the third time on the season after playing in back-to-back games in February. UC Irvine earned a 12-9 win at the Burns Aquatic Center on Feb. 18, and then a week later the Lions earned a 9-6 win at UCI on Feb. 25. In the first meeting, UC Irvine scored the first three goals of the fourth quarter to open up a tight, back-and-forth non-conference battle. The Lions had four players scored two goals each, while UC Irvine had Jessy Cardey and Danielle Warde score five goals a piece. Jessica Morelos scored her second of the game to tied the game at 6-6 with 6:29 to play in the third. Then Laura Lopez scored with 5:51 to give the Lions their first lead of the game, 7-6. However, UC Irvine responded with three unanswered goals of their own to take a 9-7 lead on a Warde goal with 1:42 left. Two of the three goals came on the 6-on-5. Kimberly Benedetti would score her second goal with 17 seconds to play in the third quarter to cut the score to 9-8. UC Irvine would then pull away with another three-goal run, taking a 12-8 lead on a five-meter penalty shot with 4:24 on the clock. Flacks scored her second with 3:03 to play, but LMU would get no closer. All told, there were 25 ejections on the game as LMU went 5-for-12 on the extra-man attack, while UCI went 4-of-11. In the second meeting a week later, the teams found themselves in another tight one. After an even first quarter, the Lions took a 5-3 lead into halftime. Like UC Irvine did to the Lions, LMU returned the favor by pulling away in the second half. The Lions a three-goal lead throughout the second half and then played even in the fourth for the win to advance to the championship bracket. This is the Lions ninth trip to the NCAA Championships and will be the first time the Lions will open the tournament against a foe not from the MPSF. This will be the 20th all-time meeting between the two teams with the Lions owning a 16-3 edge in the series.

This is the Lions' ninth trip to the National Collegiate Women's Water Polo Championship and the fifth time since it was expanded to eight teams in 2005. The Lions best finish in the tournament came in 2004 when they placed second, defeating Stanford in the semifinals but then falling in the title game to USC. It was the first time any LMU team played in a NCAA title game. In their last appearance, the Lions upset the four-time defending champions and top-ranked UCLA Bruins to advance to the semifinals for the first time since the field moved to eight teams. They went on to drop heartbreakers to USC in the semifinals and then to Cal in the consolation final. The Lions are 9-11 all-time at the tournament.

Throughout the Lions' record run since 2011, the record book as been written many times over, and the 2012 season continues that trend. Heading into the NCAA tournament, the record book continues names, both in youth and in graduating seniors, including in scoring. Senior Kimberly Benedetti is ranked fourth all-time with 214 career goals, making her just the fifth player in program history to top 200 goals. Sophomore Alexandra Honny is making a case to chase that mark, scoring 77 goals this season for 125 in her short two-year career. The goal total this season is ranked third all-time while her career total is already ranked ninth. Junior Erin Manke is ranked 10th all-time with 122 career goals, while senior Casey Flacks is 16th with 115. Helping the Lions' to score the last four years has been Flacks, who has 52 assists this season to give her 147 all-time at LMU. She is the school's all-time leader and this year's total is four behind the record set by Manke in 2011. Manke is ranked second with 132 career assists, earning 39 this season (ranked tied for sixth). Honny is 15th with 43. Flacks, Manke and Honny are also in the top-20 in steals, ranking 4th, 13th and 19th, with 183, 113 and 88 steals, respectively. Goalie Elise Ponce has established quite the four-year stint in goal for the Lions, ranking third all-time with 630 career saves. Her 287 saves this season is ranked fifth all-time.

LMU senior Casey Flacks was named the 2012 Western Water Polo Association Player of the Year, as the conference announced its annual award winners for the 2012 season. Flacks highlighted a group of seven Lions to earn postseason honors, its largest group in program history. Flacks, along with sophomore Alexandra Honny and senior goalie Elise Ponce earned first-team All-WWPA honors. Senior Kimberly Benedetti and junior Erin Manke earned second-team and honorable mention honors, respectively, while Mackenzie Beck and Laura Lopez earned WWPA All-Freshman honors. Flacks is the Lions fourth straight Player of the Year winner and 10th overall since 2001. Ten different players have now won the conference's top honor. Flacks was named the 2012 LMU Student-Athelte of the Year for the second consecutive year while senior transfer Whitney Delgado was named the LMU Newcomer of the Year. Delgado also was named second-team WWPA All-Tournament.

For the 12th straight season, the Loyola Marymount women's water polo team earned at least 20 wins in a season thanks to the 20-9 mark so far in 2012. The streak started with a 23-7 mark in 2001, and since they have win totals of 21 (2002), 24 (2003), 25 (2004), 30 (2005), 25 (2006), 27 (2007), 20 (2008), 26 (2009), 28 (2010), and 26 (2011). Since the Lions won their first title in 2001, the Lions are 105-5 all-time against the current members of the WWPA and are 39-5 all-time in the WWPA tournament. The Lions improved to 37-1 against the WWPA in the three-year tenure of Head Coach Kyle Witt.



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