PASADENA (Feb. 27, 2018) – An added year of experience for the young Caltech women's water polo team has worked wonders in practice as the team gets ready for what could be a landmark season in 2018.
The SCIAC's coach of the year during the men's water polo season, Jon Bonafede and his staff graduated just two seniors in 2017 and hopes to continue to use foundational pieces and players to help build a winning culture within the women's program for years to come.
"Last year, we built upon a fun, welcoming and supporting culture," Bonafede said. "We did a really good job at getting our conditioning level up to a college level water polo team and I thought we showed some resliency. There was a silver lining to all the hard work we put in and as a result we finished the season with happy scholar athletes."
Junior Brittany Percin (Lake Tahoe, Calif. / Stanford Online) returns to the team as the Beavers' unquestioned leading scorer, logging 46 goals, three assists and 28 drawn exclusions in addition to 57 steals, also a team best. Percin comes over to the water polo team after another successful year as a swimmer, where she made noise at the SCIAC Championships with multiple trips to the podium. Percin is not the only Caltech swimmer hoping to smoothly transition from lane lines to goals, however. Fellow junior Gemma Takahashi (San Jose, Calif. / Leland), a newly minted SCIAC champion should also be an impact player for the Beavers this year, particularly on sprint where she went 32-for-59 last year. A third junior, Katie Johnston (Livermore, Calif. / Livermore) also has a chance to be a key contributor to the team once again after scoring 18 goals in 2017, good for second on the team behind Percin. Her 14 assists are also a team-high as far as returners go.
While the aforementioned three should form the nucleus of this year's Caltech team, Bonafede believes the team may be as well rounded as it has ever been.
"I think we're going to have a well-balanced team," Bonafede said. "I think we're going to have players doing things they haven't normally done in the last two years because they've grown from me and my staff having coached them up to the point where we can get more out of them. Brittany and Katie have been our main goal scorers the last two seasons and will be marked by other teams, but I also why I think you're going to see a more balanced offense this year and maybe some new things on defense as well."
The sophomore class, playing in tandem with the talented juniors should also have a chance to leave their mark on the season. Sophomore goaltender Sarah Kreider (River Forest, Ill. / Oak Park and River Forest) made 95 saves as a freshman and will likely benefit from improved defensive play in front of her. Sophomore Mackenzie Wooten (Las Vegas, Nev. / Northwest Career and Technical Academy) is also expected to see an increase in minutes and will be joined by fellow women's soccer player Gabriella Chan (Colleyville, Texas / School for the Talented and Gifted) making her debut for Caltech water polo. Another sophomore, Samantha D'Costa (San Jose, Calif. / St. Francis) rejoins the team after an impressive season on the basketball court.
"I think Gabriella especially has picked things up really quickly," Bonafede said. "She's really strong in the water, has good balance in addition to a strong shot so she has really impressed me. Mackenzie's comfortability in the water and ball-handling skills have been really improving as have our two goalkeepers."
Joining Kreider in net this year will be freshman Elaine Lowinger (Alonzo and Tracy Mourning Biscayne Bay Campus), who brings a versatile game to the Caltech lineup. Bonafede plans to use his lone freshman in a variety of ways, whether it's on offense, defense or in net.
"We're going to get more out of Elaine than just goaltending," Bonafede said. "She's a goalkeeper by trade but she can also swim and she has a good shot so I'm excited to see how we can best utilize her in a competitive format. I am also looking at using our other goalkeeper, Sarah Kreider in a similar fashion so we're able to get the most our of her 6-foot frame."
Seniors Devi Ganapathi (La Crescenta, Calif. / Crescenta Valley) and Cameron Earl (Mahomet, Ill. / Mahomet Seymour) will be the elderstateswomen on the team this year and will be among a long list of players Bonafede and his staff will be looking at cultivating as leaders going forward. Women's water polo will also have seven assistant coaches on staff, many of which have had some semblence of association with the program in the past. The list of names includes David Robles, Julie Hofstra, Stephanie Wong, Sophie Miller and Megan Phelan.
"I think everybody has had a hand in leading the team at this point," Bonafede said. "I have given everyone a captain-type responsibility. Whether it's communicating with the team or leading a warm-up or drill, everybody's doing their part. I have six volunteer women to help lead the team though, but we're just trying to empower the right people with the right tasks and no overwhelm anyone at the moment."
Bonafede and the Beavers will open the season on Wednesday, Feb. 28 at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges before taking part in the ensuing weekend's Claremont Convergence and later opening up at home against Penn State University-Behrend on Tuesday, Mar. 6.