Comparing the seedings of this weekend’s conference tournament and this week’s Collegiate Water Polo Association national rankings tells you all you need to know about Mountain Pacific Sports Federation women’s water polo.
Hawaii (17-7) is ranked fifth in the country for the seventh straight week, and seeded third in the MPSF Tournament that starts today at San Jose State’s Aquatics Center. It plays sixth-seeded SJSU (20-11), which is ranked seventh.
All eight MPSF teams are among the top 11 in the country, including top-ranked, unbeaten Stanford.
The Wahine and Spartans last played in the season opener, three months ago. Hawaii won 12-9. It needs another win today and a win in tomorrow’s semifinal — against second-ranked Cal if the seeds hold — to feel good about getting one of three at-large slots in the NCAA Championship.
That would also give the Wahine a shot at their first MPSF title and the NCAA berth that goes with it. Less than two wins "and it gets political," according to UH coach Michel Roy.
That would be dicey for what Roy believes is the best UH team he has had since he came here from the Canadian national program in 2003. He has six seniors —Serena Bredin,Leonie Van Der Molen,Dagmar Genee,Carmen Eggens,Saara Majuri andSara Gralitzer — and junior All-American Monika Eggens leads the MPSF in scoring.
"In the past we’ve had a few better individuals," Roy says. "Iefke Van Belkum is the best player in the world now, but she was surrounded by younger, less experienced players. As a team, this is the best since I’ve been here. We have talent at every position …it’s a great team. if we show up and play well, we can go all the way."
Bredin, a four-year starter at goalie, could have the final say. She is the last line of defense and, Roy believes, the best goalie in college. She came here from Winnipeg, hardly a hotbed of Canadian water polo, but Roy found her physical gifts impossible to ignore.
"Goalie is a very special position," he says. "You have to be kind of a loner. You are in the back of the game and the game depends on you. It takes a special quality to be a goalie. Who wants to get a ball shot at them at 40 mph? Serena is a great athlete. She has had an amazing season."
Each year she has become more of a presence, and more comfortable with the collegiate game. Last semester, she trained for her first marathon and finished the Honolulu Marathon in 3:54.31. That enhanced an already exceptional leg strength that’s required for world-class goalies. Without touching the bottom, they have to rise above the surface to cover a net 1 meter high and 3 meters wide — about 3 feet by 10 feet.
Once up there, goalies often have to stay awhile to stop shots that not only come quickly but are often taken inside 10 feet. The "eggbeater" kick they use is similar to what synchronized swimmers do, but the actions are more explosive and spontaneous.
MPSF WATER POLO TOURNAMENT
» When: Today-Sunday
"She can basically sit on her legs and hands and just jump, she is that powerful," Roy says. "It’s a great technique. Not many people get that."
Flexibility, fearlessness and great instincts also enter in. Bredin, a triathlete before she found water polo, has 659 saves here and will move into second on the UH career chart with her next one. She tied a school record with 17 in Hawaii’s win over UCLA this year and is averaging nearly nine a game, including a spectacular stop of a penalty shot that helped the Rainbow Wahine earn their highest MPSF seed ever in the last match.
Now, after a year of last-second wins and losses, UH might have its best chance at an NCAA title.
"We’ve just got to believe in ourselves," Bredin says. "We’ve come this far, done what we can in the pool physically. Now it’s just mentally believing in ourselves."