Under the direction of third-year Head Coach Chris Gielen, the University of Redlands women's water polo team continued to take steps in the right direction for an impending return to the top half of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC). With a team filled with young talent, the Bulldogs showed resiliency and focus while improving upon last year's record to reenter the double-digit win column for the first time in three seasons. During the 2017 campaign, Redlands registered a 10-23 overall mark en route to a 5-7 record in conference for seventh place.
After opening the season with a pair of losses to high-caliber opponents, the Maroon and Gray quickly regrouped to take down NCAA Division I competitor Siena College (NY). The Bulldogs' offense came to battle and ultimately pushed past the Saints in a 16-13 victory. After trailing early, the Bulldogs opened the second frame with three-straight goals for a slight 5-4 advantage with 5:22 left on the clock. Sophomore utility player Rachel Nelson (San Juan Capistrano, CA), junior defender Stefanie Goldbach (Huntington Beach, CA), and junior attack player Alea Weber (Haiku, HI) each found the back of the net for the Bulldogs during this stretch. After Siena tied it up, Redlands quickly responded with key stops on defense while also scoring twice to take a 7-5 lead with 3:52 remaining in the second quarter. Sophomore center Kolby Kahahawai (Kailua, HI) and sophomore attack player Sami Walker (Taylorsville, UT) accounted for these goals. The Saints kept it close through the whole game, but the Maroon and Gray remained relentless, resulting in a 16-13 victory.
During the Gary Troyer Memorial Classic in Claremont, the Bulldogs faced tough competition and ultimately came away with only one victory against Penn State-Behrend (PA) by a 14-6 decision. Redlands came out firing to earn a 5-1 lead through the first period. Freshman attack player Olivia Allen (Santa Monica, CA) uncorked back-to-back goals in the first two minutes of action, while Nelson, Kahahawai, and junior attack player MaryKate Hunter (Redlands, CA) each found the back of the net once. During a fairly even second quarter that resulted in a 7-3 advantage at the midway point of the game, sophomore attack player Wendy McAleer (Simi Valley, CA) notched her first-ever goal as a Bulldog. Redlands kept its foot on the gas pedal to orchestrate a 7-2 run in the final two periods, with the Bulldogs utilizing a new mix of goal-scorers in the final stanza, as sophomore center Carmen Gardner (South San Francisco, CA), junior attack player Alana Flaherty (Hilo, HI), and junior attack player Michelle Na (Mercer Island, WA) each scored. Once the final whistle blew, this marked the first of three times in the season that nine different Bulldogs registered at least one goal.
After a hard-fought, low-scoring loss to Sonoma State University, the Maroon and Gray put together back-to-back wins with positive results over NCAA Division II opponent McKendree University (IL) and NCAA Division III foe Grove City College. Against McKendree, Redlands turned a one-goal deficit into a 5-2 lead by the midway point of the game. Walker initiated the Bulldogs' offense in the second stanza by firing off three-consecutive goals. She finished the game with four netters in a solid effort. Sophomore attack player Breanna O'Dea (Rowland Heights, CA) and Na added to the team's scoring power with one netter apiece. Defensively, sophomore goalkeeper Allison Totzke (San Bernardino, CA) patrolled the Redlands cage as an impressive stalwart by providing 17 saves in a complete-game effort.
Against Grove City, Redlands took early control by scoring six goals in the first half. During the fourth frame, the Maroon and Gray continued to roll by building a 13-1 advantage through the final minute of competition. Gardner notched a hat trick in the final stanza alone to finish the night with five goals, while O'Dea tossed in another netter for her three-goal showing.
Amongst a stretch of tough competitors and a slew of injuries, the Bulldogs dropped their next seven games but snagged another non-conference win before kicking off Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) play. The Bulldogs built an early advantage against Macalester College (MN), but the Scots never went away and cut the deficit to one on two occasions. Redlands continued to press in the fourth quarter with key goals by Kahahawai, O'Dea, Allen, and Na en route to the 8-5 win.
After dropping a close opening SCIAC game to Chapman University, the Maroon and Gray rallied to blank Occidental College, 6-0, in an impressive defensive display. Sophomore goalkeepers Kelly Grosswendt (Newbury Park, CA) and Katelyn Jenkins (Bellevue, WA) provided stellar play between the pipes to keep the Tigers off the board through 32 minutes of action.
Redlands' next SCIAC win came in a 12-1 decision over Caltech in front of the fans at the Thompson Aquatic Center. Nine different Bulldogs registered a goal for the second time this season and included single scores from McAleer, freshman attack player Samantha Lopez (Lakewood, CA), and freshman attack player Courtney Gray (Yucaipa, CA).
Later that same day, the team lost a high scoring game to Hartwick College (NY), with Nelson registering her best game of the season by scoring five goals.
Although the team dropped its next two conference games, Redlands showed great heart and determination when it battled back in an overtime thriller to defeat Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges, 9-8. Prior to this incredible match, the Bulldogs recognized lone senior Chum Alvarez-Zakson (Santa Monica, CA) for all her contributions over her four years at Redlands. Against the Athenas, the Bulldogs jumped out to an early 2-0 lead off of back-to-back goals by Kahahawai. The score was knotted at 4-4 entering halftime and remained even through the first four minutes of the third quarter, with each team netting one. Alvarez-Zakson nailed one through the posts for a goal on her Senior Day. The teams remained in an 8-8 deadlock when the final buzzer sounded, sending the Bulldogs into their first overtime game of the season. After neither team scored in the first three-minute overtime period, Redlands worked the ball around for Nelson, who dodged a couple of CMS defenders and blasted it past the goalkeeper for the eventual game-winner. The stingy Redlands defense kept the Athenas off the board for the remaining minutes of overtime and secured the hard-fought 9-8 win. The victory would not have been possible without the quick reactions of Jenkins, who made an incredible 17 saves on the day, with four coming in the overtime periods.
After falling in their final two games of the dual-match portion of the season, the Bulldogs headed into the SCIAC Championship Tournament as the No. 7 seed.
Although the team slipped in the first game of the tournament against No. 2 Pomona-Pitzer, Jenkins and Grosswendt combined for 10 impressive stops in an effort to keep their team within striking distance in the difficult match-up.
Redlands downed Caltech in its first game of day two of the tournament. The victory saw nine different goal-scorers for the third and final time of the season, with Walker owning three of the goals in the 14-4 win.
In the evening of that same day, Redlands dropped an extremely close 8-9 match to Chapman. After the Panthers held a lead through most of the game, the Bulldogs attempted to execute the comeback but simply ran out of time. Trailing 5-8 at the start of the fourth period, Nelson took matters into her own hands by firing off three-straight goals to tie it up at eight with 36 seconds to go. However, Chapman mustered the game-winning goal with five ticks left on the clock to send Redlands home with a difficult loss.
The women's water polo team closed out the 2017 campaign with an exciting win over the Occidental Tigers in the seventh-place match of the SCIAC Championship Tournament. On the heels of a remarkable four-goal, two-assist effort by Nelson, the Bulldogs earned an early lead and remained ahead en route to the 11-7 win.
Shortly after the season was over, the SCIAC announced that Kahahawai was named to the All-SCIAC Second Team, while Alvarez-Zakson was recognized on the All-Sportsmanship Team. This award comes as Kahahawai's first All-Conference nod after leading the team with 50 overall goals in 2017.
Furthermore, the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC) announced that nine student-athletes from the Bulldog women's water polo program landed on the All-Academic Team based on success in the classroom.
Although the Bulldogs will certainly miss the Alvarez-Zakson and her positive spirit, they look forward to the growth and endless possibilities for Redlands women's water polo. As the program continues to climb in the right direction with talent and determination, it holds high hopes of returning to the upper echelon of the SCIAC and beyond.