Women's water polo cruises to national runner-up

by Greg Holtz | 5/7/04 5:00am

Dartmouth women's water polo returned from California Polytechnic University of San Luis Obispo this weekend as the number-two club water polo team in the country. The National Championship Tournament brought together the best teams in the each of the 11 regions, with the Pacific region sending two, to battle for the title.

Dartmouth's strong finish last year secured them the third seed going into the tournament. The team faced off against Rice University and Miami University of Ohio in the first round.

Rice, the 11th seed, presented few problems Friday afternoon for the well-prepared Dartmouth squad. The tempo was set early, as the Big Green dominated the first quarter. Kelly Cameron '04 struck first only 30 seconds into the match, and the team followed with two man-up goals against the Owls. Rice finally got on the scoreboard, but Dartmouth responded with two quick goals to end the quarter ahead 5 "1.

Lindsey Pryor '05 and Sam Klau '05 maintained the momentum with two goals to start the half, propelling the Big Green to a 14 " 6 win.

Later that evening, Dartmouth faced off against Miami of Ohio. The Redhawks maintained an early lead off a Big Green ejection through the first quarter, but a mass of ejections for both teams suggested the game would come down to strategy. The Big Green developed theirs during a 20 second timeout, and Sarah Rosa '07 put the plan to action, tying the game at two a piece at the half.

Rosa repeated the feat to start the scoring in the second half, and Klau capitalized on the next power play to secure a 4 " 2 lead going into the fourth. The Big Green defense took over the game, with the Redhawks only managing to get one goal past goalie Gillian Morshedi '04 as time ran out. The 4 " 3 win put Dartmouth in the winners bracket, facing the University of Utah Saturday.

The Utes had a deep squad, but couldn't stand up to the immense training of the Big Green women. The teams began the game by trading six-on-five goals, but the period ended with a powerful hole shot from Klau and a resulting Dartmouth lead of 2 " 1.

Constant pressure and an impenetrable defense led to Big Green domination in the second quarter. Pryor scored midway through, and Molly Turner '05 finished the half with a quick left-handed shot from the deep right corner during a power play.

The 4-1 lead was maintained throughout most of the third quarter, as both squads traded possession and shots without any clear advantage, but the Utes managed to cut the lead to two with a goal just before the whistle.

In the fourth, Rosa spelled out the end for the Utes with an early goal, and Pryor put the nails in the coffin with two minutes left to play. Dartmouth cruised to a 6 " 3 win putting them in the championship game Sunday against host Cal Poly.

The Mustangs had a clear advantage going into the game, including crowd support, a deep bench and familiar 100 degree heat beating down on the outdoor pool, but the Big Green women knew their defense was key. "As long as we could keep them from scoring, our offense would follow," said Cameron.

Momentum began in Dartmouth's favor, as they won the sprint and put in the only goal of a tightly fought first quarter.

The second quarter began with man-up advantages being traded by both teams, neither capitalizing on the effort. Halfway through the period, Mustangs' star Elisa Hooper fought through a tough defense to score, and Cal Poly managed one more goal to end the half on top.

Cal Poly won the sprint to begin the third quarter, turning that advantage into a quick goal. The Big Green clamored back, with Cameron cutting the deficit to one off an astounding outside skip shot. The defense kept the ball out of the net for the rest of the third, but Dartmouth entered the fourth quarter trailing by one.

A penalty on Rosa was immediately turned into a goal by the Mustangs, but Klau fought back to score, keeping Dartmouth in the game.

A crucial ejection of a Mustang defender led Coach Jim Wilson to call a timeout. The strategy put the ball to Pryor, who tied the game with 4:20 left to play. Turner states, "A tie near the end of the game always boosts our confidence and makes us play harder. [Coach] Jim and I said, 'We can win this.'"

After Cameron was ejected moments later, Coach Wilson called another timeout to organize his defense. The team took his words to heart, repelling the six-on-five attack and keeping the score even.

However, Mustang's hole-set Hooper fought off Rosa and snuck one past Morshedi to put Cal Poly ahead with three minutes to play in the game. The momentum was certainly not Dartmouth's at this point, as the Mustangs managed to put in a lob shot with two minutes to play to put them up by two.

Cal Poly's Hooper managed one more goal, and the Big Green could not overcome the deficit. With the 7-4 loss, the ladies captured second place at the national championship.

The success of the season was highlighted as Coach Jim Wilson was honored as Coach of the Year. Morshedi said, "I was just so thrilled that he'd been recognized for the amazing job he does. We all were."

Coach Wilson added, "The team wins coach of the year for every coach. Without good players, there are no good coaches."

Sadly, three of those good players are graduating seniors, whose presence will be tough to replace. First-Team All-Tournament goalie Gillian "The Wall" Morshedi, wiry and tenacious Kelly Cameron and Lauren "QB" Wondolowski "were not only leaders in the pool but made the water polo team just a great and ridiculously fun thing to be a part of," Rosa said. "We have some big shoes to fill."

Morshedi's First-Team all-New England goaltending prowess will be particularly missed. Coach Wilson commented, "We can only hope to find someone who's at least half as good."

The addition of offense and defensive standout Rosa, who was selected First-Team All-Tournament as well as First-Team All-New England, will ease the transition. Much of the offensive weight will be placed on First-Team All-Tournament selection Sam Klau '05, who also earned the distinction of New England player of the year. With the addition of a solid goalie, the Big Green will have the equipment it needs to lead another charge for the National title next year.