PASADENA (Feb. 26, 2019) – The Caltech women's water polo team is looking to turn heads in 2019 thanks to its senior leadership and team cohesion. The Beavers lost just one player to graduation last year and looking to build on a season where they showed progress in the pool and came within a few goals of taking down Occidental College for the program's first SCIAC win.
"We have a great attitude and everybody gets along really well," Head Coach Jon Bonafede said. "That's not always a positive, however, as you also need people who are going to step up and call people out when they're not doing their job. With that said, I think that because of the messaging my coaching staff and I have conveyed to the team we are starting to see some leaders emerge and the buy-in is very encouraging."
Caltech's strength lies in its senior class. Senior Katie Johnston (Livermore, Calif. / Livermore) is Caltech's fourth-leading scorer of all-time and paced the Beavers in most statistical categories in 2018. She has also drawn more exclusions than any other player in program history and is one assist away from claiming the career assists record. Classmate Gemma Takahashi (San Jose, Calif. / Leland) will also return to the team following a successful swimming season. Takahashi's speed is her greatest asset and will be looking to once again lead the Beavers in steals and sprints. Senior Brittany Percin (Lake Tahoe, Calif. / Stanford Online) is another Beaver aiming to leave her mark on this year's team. Percin's per-game totals indicate that of a game-changing player, but the senior endured a limited 2018 due to her participation at the NCAA Swimming Championships. However, Percin made her presence felt in every game she played and will be ready to do whatever is needed, be it in the field on between the pipes. Senior Hana Keller (Sammamish, Wash. / Tesla STEM), meanwhile is one of the team's longest-tenured and most improved players. Keller's leadership abilities will also be called upon as she looks to have a successful last season in the pool.
"I think Brittany is going to come in fired up and ready to leave an impact in her final season, and I think Gemma, Katie and Hana all feel the same way," Bonafede said. "It's been great to see them mature over their time here and things have been great at practice. Everybody is stepping up in their own way and I think that will make us fun to watch in 2019."
Six new faces are joining the team this year with varying levels of competitive experience and athletic credentials. Freshmen Yuying Lin (Scarborough, Ontario / Victoria Park C.I.) and Sophie Devoe come to Caltech with extensive high school polo experience. Senior Michelle Zhao (San Diego, Calif. / Canyon Crest Academy), junior Sunny Cui (Vancouver, B.C. / Sir Winston Churchill Secondary) are first-year water polo players but each bring athletic backgrounds and the coachability factor necessary for continued improvement. Freshman Zoe Rock (Chappaqua, N.Y. / Horace Greeley), a forward on the women's soccer team, will also contribute this year, providing the Beavers the benefit of a left-handed shot and Isabella Dula (Tuscaloosa, Ala. / Maggie L. Walker) will make her Caltech water polo debut coming off the recently concluded swimming & diving regular season.
Returning juniors Gabriella Chan (Colleyville, Texas / School for the Talented and Gifted), Samantha D'Costa (San Jose, Calif. / St. Francis), Mackenzie Wooten (Las Vegas, Nev. / Northwest Career and Technical Academy) (last year's third-leading goal scorer), and sophomore Olivia Durrett (Charlotte, N.C. / Phillips Academy Andover) should only add to a team that is eager to improve with the benefit of an extra year of experience.
"I have high hopes for all the newcomers," Bonafede said. "I also like what I've seen out of our developing returners. Gabby has the fast-twitch movement necessary to be a good water polo player and I think having a year under her belt has really helped with her timing. Likewise, Mackenzie is doing really well and looking like an experienced polo player after three years."
Caltech's goaltending situation is currently up in the air but Bonafede and his staff plan on using the superior athletic makeup of this year's squad to their advantage. Multiple players could have the opportunity to log saves this year and how each player gets deployed come opening night could make this year's team worth watching. Breaking into the SCIAC win column, might be one way to quantify a successful season, but it will not be the only determinant of success for the women's water polo team. The Beavers are eager to find out how far their their unique team dynamic can take them as they strive to become more competitive in conference play.
"I think it's a really cool team dynamic," Bonafede said. "What we lack in experience we make up for in togetherness. We really get along. There aren't any cliques on our team and there's no ego with these women. Everyone wants to learn and I have an awesome opportunity now to mold that into a team that works together through the rules of water polo. The competitive drive is there but their favorite thing is learning how to better play the game."
Bonafede and the Beavers will open their season on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at home with last year's SCIAC runner-up California Lutheran University.