Jan. 30, 2004
It will be a new look this year for head Coach Adam Krikorian's 2004 women's water polo team. Coming off a 23-4 record and 2003 NCAA Championship this year's team must face the challenge of replacing seven seniors to graduation and four current players to the U.S. National Team. Composed entirely of freshmen and sophomores, youth will be served as UCLA looks to repeat as NCAA Champions.
"This team is young, no juniors or seniors, I've never experienced anything like this before, but at the same time because of their youth they are very willing to learn and to work hard and to improve. As long as the team continues to display these characteristics we are going to be fine. This team will improve and be right there at the end of the season for the chance to play for a national championship."
At the center forward position this season will be sophomore Kristina Kunkel and freshmen Kacy Kunkel and Brittney Bowlus.
As a sophomore on the team, Kristina Kunkel will be a co-captain and will be expected to provide leadership for this year's team. "Kristina is a very versatile player, she's not just going to be limited to the center forward position for us," said Krikorian. "She will have to provide a lot of leadership as a sophomore for us this year as co-captain." Joining Kristina at the center forward position will be her sister, freshman Kacy Kunkel. "Kacy has great upper and lower body strength and is very skilled at the position," said Krikorian. "I think as the season wears on she will be one of the best center forwards in the country this year."
Rounding out the center forward position will be Bowlus who will be expected to provide depth. "Brittney will back up Kristina and Kacy at the position and will provide us with depth," said Krikorian. "She also provides some speed for us and she can be effective on the counterattack and hopefully create offensive opportunities for us that way."
After emerging as a defensive force last year Heineck returns as co-captain for the Bruins. "I think Heineck proved last year to be one of the best center defenders in the country and she'll be our primary defender," said Krikorian. "She is strong, has great leg strength and does a very good job of denying position at 2 meters with her quickness." Flanagan saw limited playing time last year but will see significant playing time this season. According to Krikorian, "she's extremely strong and a fast swimmer who will cause problems with opposing center forwards."
To provide depth at the position the Bruins will have to look to help from players at other positions. "After Lauren and Katie we are going to have to use a variety of players," said Krikorian. "We're not just going to rely on one person to provide depth."
Perhaps the Bruins' most inexperienced position, Krikorian will look to a sophomore and two freshmen to provide scoring opportunities for the Bruins.
Sophomore Katherine Belden saw limited action last year, but according to Krikorian is, " a very feisty, aggressive player who I think is going to have a great year for us and be very effective on both sides of the ball."
True freshman Molly Cahill will also see significant playing time this year. "I think she is going to be one of the best freshman drivers this year," said Krikorian. "She's got great speed and does a great job defensively and can shoot the ball very well."
The lone left on this years team freshman Jenna Murphy will set up from the right side of the pool for the Bruins. "She'll play on the right side of the pool and does a good job defensively," said Krikorian. "Jenna will be very important for our success on our 6 on 5's."
Sophomore Paloma Slezak and freshman Kelley Koepp will provide depth off the bench for the Bruins. "Paloma is a very competitive player," said Krikorian. "And Kelly had great speed and will provide opportunities for us on the counter attack."
While young, UCLA's two goalkeepers, sophomore Tahlia Kerr and freshman Emily Feher compose what Krikorian considers to be the best goalie tandem in the nation: "I think our goalies are perhaps the strongest point of our team and I think we have the best goalie tandem in the country with Emily and Tahlia."
Feher was a standout at goalie for Foothill High School and is the starter for the United States Junior National Team. "Emily will be our starter this year and was obviously the best high school goalie in the country last year and I think will be one of the best, if not the best goalie in the country this year," said Krikorian.
Coming off the bench will be Kerr who provided invaluable depth last year, posting a shutout in her first collegiate start and finishing with a 1.47 goal against average in 133 minutes played.
"Emily and Tahlia are both knowledgeable and have great work ethics," said Krikorian. "Both do a nice job of passing and are really solid in all areas of the game."
THE 2004 SEASON
Head Coach Adam Krikorian on the upcoming season: "Even though we are missing players because of the National Team, our goal is still to win a national championship. However, the approach this season will not be to only focus on that ultimate goal, we need to try to improve every day in practice and make the most out of every practice and every game. There is no doubt that because of the youth and inexperience on this team that we are going to get tremendously better as the season progresses. What we need to do is improve so that by the end of the year we can put ourselves in the best possible position to win the conference tournament and get the opportunity to again win a National Championship.