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Season preview: CSU water polo opens season with high hopes

The CSU Rams water polo team opens its ninth season on Monday. The Rams have an experienced group returning to the pool, and will play some of the nation's top teams.

The CSU Rams water polo team opens its ninth season on Monday. The Rams have an experienced group returning to the pool, and will play some of the nation's top teams.

Jan. 9, 2013

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After earning a top-20 ranking in the opening weeks of the season a year ago, the Colorado State women’s water polo team was hampered by injuries and one of the most difficult schedules in the nation.

Now, a year later, the schedule remains just as tough, but the Rams have returning talent, another year of experience and optimism that the team has what it takes to reach the next step in developing the program.

Sure, the team lost one of the most prolific players in program history—defender Kallie Berry, who ranks in the top five in CSU history in career goals, assists, steals, blocks, ejections drawn and total points—but associate head coach Mike Moody is looking at who will be back in the pool instead of who graduated.

“We have some big holes to fill, but I really feel like our program is developing the younger players, and our seniors and returners are stepping up and training hard,” he said.

Leading the charge are seniors Shelby Schaefer and Caroline Young.

Schaefer ranked among the top three on the team in goals (38; third), assists (38; second), steals (32; third) and ejections drawn (42; first) in 2012. Young established new single-season records for blocks (23) and assists (45), and scored 57 goals, fifth-best in school history. She was an All-WWPA honorable mention.

“Shelby is our team captain—voted on by the girls—and she’s done a great job this fall,” Moody said. “I expect her to not skip a beat from where she was at last year. Same thing with Caroline. The two of them on opposite sides of the pool creates a great tandem. I like what I see from the seniors; they’re doing a good job leading.”

Also returning is Kelcy Barott, named to the 2012 WWPA All-Freshman team, and teammates Stephanie Weed (36 steals a year ago), Lauren Porteus (2011 WWPA All-Freshman team selection) and seven other returners, plus seven freshmen and a transfer.

Additionally, the Rams have both of their goalies back in net. Senior Melissa Fisher and junior Michelle Slagle split time in goal last season, with both making impacts.

Fisher, now a senior, ranks second in CSU history for career saves and holds three of the top seven single-season saves totals. Slagle, who transferred to CSU from LMU and started 15 games a year ago, tied CSU’s single-game saves record with 16 vs. Michigan (Jan. 21, 2012).

“They battled all last year, and have been battling each other throughout the offseason,” Moody said. “I expect to see both of them playing significant roles again this season.”

The talent is there, but again, a very demanding schedule will play a factor in the team’s success. Last year’s strength of schedule ranked 24th nationally. This year’s could top that, as at least 12 of CSU’s 2013 opponents were ranked in the top 20 of last year’s final Collegiate Water Polo Association poll (one tournament field is still uncertain).

After an exhibition contest against Cal State Northridge on Monday at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, the Rams begin the season with the Michigan Kick-Off, one of the nation’s premier tournaments. There the Rams will face Michigan, Indiana and San Jose State—three teams who were ranked in the top 15 last year. Other tournaments include the Brown Invite (Providence, R.I.), Aggie Shootout (Davis, Calif.), Arizona State Tournament (Tempe, Ariz.) and The Bronco (Santa Clara, Calif.), in addition to several single matches against California teams.

During a three-day stretch at the Arizona State Tournament, the Rams will face Michigan (No. 12 in last year’s final poll), Arizona State (No. 5) and Stanford—the defending national champions which still has three 2012 Olympians on its roster.

In order to beat some of these teams, Moody says his team needs to improve on defense.

“We need to do a better job defensively than last year,” he said. “That’s what we’ve focused on this fall; not necessarily being more physical, but more aggressive.”

CSU will also play three exhibition games inside the state of Colorado, including two (Feb. 23 and April 13) at its home facility, the Veterans Memorial Aquatic Center, located in Thornton. The VMAC, a state-of-the-art facility, allows CSU to play in a regulation-size pool, and became home to the Rams in 2012.

Without a doubt, the Rams play the best in order to prepare them to become the best, and they’ll look to take that next step in 2013.

“CSU needs to be a powerhouse,” Moody said. “Water polo takes that to heart. We don’t back down. We work as hard as anybody in the country, so we welcome the challenge of facing the best teams and trying to beat and become them.”




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