Bucknell Women's Water Polo Opens 2012 Season this Weekend at Princeton Invitational
Feb. 10, 2012
LEWISBURG, Pa. - The Bucknell women's water polo team begins its 13th season of competition this weekend at the two-day Princeton Invitational. The Bison will play four games in a 28-hour span as they usher in their first campaign under the direction of first-year head coach John McBride.
Bucknell, which posted a 13-18 record last year and finished seventh at the Eastern Championship, returns 15 letterwinners and five starters from last year's squad. Seniors Hallie Kennan and Amanda Skonezney are serving as the team co-captains.
The Bison season gets underway Saturday at 9 a.m. against Harvard. Bucknell will then play Colorado State at 4:30 p.m. Sunday's slate features an 8:30 a.m. contest against George Washington and a 12:15 p.m. matchup with Mercyhurst.
The Bison have started the year at least 3-0 in three of the last four years, including a program-record 6-0 start in 2008.
Assistant coach Marty Matthies will serve as head coach in the opening game against Harvard. McBride will be serving a one-game suspension after receiving a red card at last year's Eastern Championship while he was still at Brown.
Below is a closer look at the Bison entering the 2012 season:
"There is a different kind of intensity being brought to the program and the team seems to be responding very well," commented McBride, who came to Bucknell last May after seven years as an assistant coach at Brown.
McBride, who guided the Bison men to a strong 15-10 mark in the fall, certainly has high expectations for the squad as he lined up a challenging schedule that features eight teams listed in the preseason national top 10.
"The previous coaching staff did a great job recruiting and our freshman class is really strong," praised McBride. "This team is loaded with talent. It didn't always show through last year, but there is a lot of talent."
In addition to talent, the Bison have plenty of experience with 15 letterwinners and five starters returning. A number of players received playing time last year due to a substitution pattern McBride likened to hockey lines, meaning he has no shortage of veterans to choose from when doling out minutes.
While there is a lot of talent and experience at his disposal, McBride expects to shorten his rotation and have every player fill a role.
"In the past, players never really understood what their role was during a game," said McBride. "They were all expected to play every position. We have narrowed it down to more of a role-playing team, where everybody understands what they have to do when they enter the water."
McBride thinks the defined roles and a stronger focus on defensive intensity will lead to positive results and more consistent play.
"The one thing noticeable and surprising to me is that this team played catch up in every game last year," mentioned McBride. "They lost the first half of almost every game and spent the entire time trying to catch up. We need a core group fired up and ready to go at the start so we can go at a faster pace. We need to throw the first punch ourselves."
Senior co-captains Hallie Kennan and Amanda Skonezney are expected to be the top leaders on the team in addition to being two of the more productive players in the pool. Kennan is the squad's leading returning scorer, having tallied a team-high 55 goals and career highs in assists (32) and points (87) last season. The left-hander ranks 12th in program history in career goals (126) and is tied for 12th in assists (69).
"I expect Hallie to be a leader in the pool, set the example and work hard. Her leadership skills are great and the team really responds when she talks," said McBride. "I never expect the leading scorer from one year to come back and be the leading scorer again due to the defensive focus changing, but she will still be a key for us on the offensive end."
One of the faster swimmers on the team, Skonezney holds the Bucknell record for career sprints won (145) and is 12th all-time in games started (86) as she enters her fourth year as a starter. A consistent player, Skonezney has netted between 22 and 27 goals and 40 and 46 points in each of her first three campaigns.
"Amanda is a huge role player for us," complimented McBride. "She is physical and very aggressive while giving us an outside threat and the ability to go inside to the center position. Amanda also has a high water polo IQ. She's just very good at everything."
Sophomore Julianne Valdes was one of three Bison to tally at least 80 points last year, along with Kennan and two-time Honorable Mention All-American Kandis Canonica, who has since graduated. That trio combined for 145 of the squad's 319 goals (45.5%), 115 of 242 assists (47.5%) and 260 of 561 points (46.3%), with Valdes contributing 47 goals, 38 assists and 85 points. She earned the team's Rookie of the Year Award, drew 42 ejections and was named the CWPA Western Division Rookie of the Week twice.
"Julianne is not going to be playing center anymore, but I expect her to be an offensive and defensive threat," commented McBride. "I expect her steals to go up. I expect her goals to go up. I expect her to play a lot of minutes. She is a joy to coach and has a great work ethic. If I could take whatever is in her and put it in everyone else, we'd be in great shape."
While Bucknell does have plenty of offensive firepower returning with five players who netted at least 22 goals last year back with an additional year of experience, McBride knows the team will win games on the defensive end. Luckily he has the luxury of two experienced goalies on his roster to anchor that defense. Senior Brittany Connell and sophomore Rena Heim split time in cage nearly equally last year. Connell recorded more saves (126), while Heim's save percentage of .480 was better. However, McBride expects one of them to win the starting job this year.
"Having two experienced goalies has certainly made practices better," remarked McBride. "Both are super competitive and want to be the starter. I explained to both that just because someone isn't named the starter doesn't mean they stop. The backup will be just one small injury away from becoming the starter."
Bucknell had a very strong rookie class a year ago, headlined by Valdes. But there were other important cogs, including Mackenzie Ferry, Heather Smith and Stephanie Ovalle. That trio combined for 65 goals, 34 assists and 99 points. Smith was a regular member of the starting lineup, while Ferry and Ovalle were valuable reserves.
"We're trying to move Heather out of the defensive two-meter position and give that to Becca Shopiro and a couple others," explained McBride. "Heather is going to be a much better perimeter defender, where she can use her speed on counter attacks.
"I recruited Mackenzie at Brown, but she came here instead," mentioned McBride. "I'm glad I finally get to coach her. She could be one of the top players on the East Coast. The sky is the limit for her."
That young talent will continue to pair with veterans to form a well-balanced Bison team as Shopiro, a senior, and juniors Shannon Carroll, Krystle Morgan and Tara Murao will fill valuable roles. Shopiro is a physical defensive presence, while Morgan tallied 11 goals in eight late-season games last year after missing time with an injury. Carroll was one of eight Bison to appear in all 31 games, while Murao provides energy and toughness, especially on the defensive end.
Bucknell's 20-person roster also includes five freshmen and McBride thinks the majority of those newcomers will be impact players. Among the most notable rookies is Emily Norton, who is a member of the Bison swimming and diving team and who has two brothers that are on Bucknell's men's water polo squad. Additionally, McBride expects big things from Taylor Barnett, Sayeh Bozorghadad and Barbara Peterson.