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2006 Women's Water Polo Season Outlook
Courtesy: UCLA Athletics  
Release:  01/26/2006

Jan. 26, 2006

Coming off of what many people considered the greatest season in women's water polo collegiate history, the 2006 Bruins have another opportunity to defend their success. The 2005 team was led by Cutino Award winner Natalie Golda where they went 33-0 and won the NCAA Championship. The 2006 team loses one starter from last season, Golda, and is returning 15 letter winners. Thalia Munro, Kristina Kunkel, Lauren Heineck and Katherine Belden will provide the senior leadership to bring the Bruins success.

Adam Krikorian said of this year, "It is going to be impossible to top last year. To go 33-0 in the fashion that we did was incredible and something that every member of the team is going to remember for the rest of their lives. It's on to a new year and the same expectations but a completely different season and circumstances. We are looking forward to the obvious challenges that will present themselves as the season moves along."

Center Forwards

At the center forward position this season will be junior Kacy Kunkel and sophomore Brittany Rowe. Both players received considerable playing time last year.

"Kacy Kunkel is a very strong and physical center who is going to force teams to change the way they play defensively because of how effectively she plays in the center position."

Sophomore Brittany Rowe is ambidextrous and can shoot with either hand, making her a formidable weapon. "Brittany Rowe is coming off a great freshman year in which she really improved a tremendous amount over the course of the season, and we're hoping that she can continue to build off of that improvement," said Krikorian. "Brittany gained experience this summer and a lot of confidence practicing and playing with the U.S. national team."

Each player will be effective in giving teams different looks when they play the center position.

Center Defenders

The most important thing for the Bruins at this position will be staying healthy. "Lauren Heineck, who in the first half of the last season I thought was the best defender in the country, does a tremendous job, and hopefully she can stay healthy throughout the season. If she is able to do that she'll have an incredible senior season," said Krikorian.

Also helping out will be sophomore Monique Blanchard. Blanchard received some playing time in her freshman year last season and took advantage of those opportunities.

Krikorian said of Blanchard, "We are looking forward to her stepping up and playing a little bit bigger role on the team. She has great speed and she's a tough competitor. Her long arms, quickness, and mobility will help her become a good defender."

Utility

The Bruins have four very dynamic and versatile utility players. The team can rely on them for whatever it needs, whether helping with speed, strength, defending, playing center or posting-up players at times.

"Senior Thalia Munro has enjoyed a tremendous career. She is probably the best all-around defender in the country. Her ability to cover a lot of ground in the water is unique, and her speed, leg strength and intelligence are all going to be very important to our team," said Krikorian.

"Senior Kristina Kunkel is a big time player," Krikorian continued. "She has gained a lot of confidence playing with the US National Team this past summer. She is a tremendous defender with great instincts, knows how to get open, and knows where to get the ball."

Along with the seniors are sophomore Jillian Kraus and junior Molly Cahill. According to coach Krikorian, "They are the fiercest of competitors and play with a lot of pride and passion. They both do a lot of the little things that often times go unnoticed but yet were very important to the success of our team last year and will be again this year."

Left-Handed Drivers

The Bruins have three left-handed drivers, which is very rare. Krikorian feels that they are young but they have plenty of room to grow, and he is going to take advantage of their skills.

"Sophomore Gabbie Domanic is coming off a great freshman season. She's got great speed, good vision, is an excellent passer and shooter," said Krikorian.

"Sophomore Jenna Murphy is coming off of an injury that forced her to sit out last year and she is going to be very hungry and very excited to be back getting an opportunity to play," Krikorian added. Freshman Anne Belden who comes in as a true freshman has a great chance to help out and contribute. She is a very intelligent player and a great passer."

Right-Handed Drivers

Junior Kelly Rulon, senior Katherine Belden, sophomore Courtney Mathewson, and freshmen Katie Rulon and Tanya Gandy make up the Bruins' lineup of skilled right-handed drivers.

Krikorian said, "Kelly Rulon is one of the best players, if not the best player in the country, and is certainly going to be one of our leaders. She is someone who has incredible instincts and a knack for knowing how to score. She has an overall great understanding of the game."

"Courtney Mathewson and Katherine Belden are fierce competitors, both good defenders and also do an excellent job of shooting the ball from the perimeter. We will rely on those two to help us with the perimeter game," said Krikorian

"Katie Rulon and Tanya Gandy are two girls that have a tremendous amount of potential, particularly offensively," he said concerning the two freshmen. "They'll have the opportunity to come in and play right away. Those two will only get better as the season goes on as they gain more experience and confidence."

Goalkeepers

Junior Emily Feher is UCLA's starting goalkeeper for the year. Her experience and leadership is an essential part of the Bruin team.

"The backbone of our team is Emily Feher. She is one of the best goalies in the country and is the leader of our defense," said Krikorian. "Having Emily back there will allow us to take chances defensively because we have so much confidence in her ability to block and pass the ball. She is a true competitor and a great leader for this team."

2006 Season

Krikorian said of the upcoming season: "The thing that we are going to focus on the most is trying to improve as the season goes on. I think there are always great expectations here, being part of a program that has won seven national championships. Last year there were even greater expectations to go undefeated and win convincingly. We accomplished that, and now it's time to play again, to win every game and to improve as the season goes on. We are going to be another great team this year. We have a tremendous amount of speed and I think we are the fastest team in the country. We're going to do a great job defensively, and I think we are going to have great leadership. Hopefully in the end we'll get a chance to defend our national title."


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