Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Water polo wins second consecutive conference title

Ngan Vu

The women’s water polo team had high expectations for this season after finishing last season with a Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Division-III conference championship and a third-place finish in the national tournament. Despite this season being only the program’s third season, success is the standard for the young program. 

“We hold ourselves to a high standard,” junior Charlotte Newport said. “I think we hoped to repeat what we have done in the last two years, win our conference championship again this year and ultimately qualify for nationals. We always want to place higher in our ultimate goal: the national championship.”

The Vikings started out their regular season on fire, going 7-2, which was the best start to a season in program history through nine games. Junior Ocean Akau was one player on the team who helped get the team in a groove early on.

“We were all collectively a little nervous just because you always get nervous during a season,” Akau said. “Once we got into our groove after our first weekend of the year, I think it was pretty easy for everyone to focus and remember our game going forward.”

After losing a close game to then-sixth-ranked Chapman University, the Vikings came back a few games later to defeat conference foe, seventh-ranked, Austin College. Wins over nationally ranked teams can show what a team is really made of. Sophomore Jersey Merrick said that a lot of hard work has been put into getting wins like that.

“It just shows how hard work can truly pay off,” Merrick said. “Looking from when we were a new program struggling to beat these teams to where we are now just shows how much we’ve developed and grown as a team.”

The team picked up another solid win over ninth-ranked Macalester College before finishing the regular season with an overall record of 16-3. That record is the best regular season finish in the history of the young Viking program and is the first time they have finished undefeated in conference play. 

At the end of the season, the Vikings finished the regular season on a nine-game winning streak. Heading into the postseason, the team had a lot of momentum on their side. 

“I think that definitely will help us because it just gives you that confidence of  ‘okay, we can do this, and we’ve accomplished so much,’ so it’s just kind of like being excited for what the future will bring,” Merrick said.

To begin the CWPA Conference Championships on April 19, the Vikings defeated Grove City University 22-4. Sophomore Carli Udovich led the way with five goals, while Merrick added four more in the dominating win. 

“We were executing very highly on what we’ve practiced, like our defensive principles and how we run our offense,” Newport said. “We just got to the flow of things, stuck to the plan and executed at a high level.”

Veronica Peterson

For the team’s next game the following day, they faced off against Washington and Jefferson College. In a closer matchup, they defeated Washington and Jefferson by a score of 16-10 to advance to the CWPA to square off against Austin College. This marked the third straight year Augustana has met Austin College in the conference championship game, so there is history behind the matchup. 

“I wouldn’t say we felt overconfident or anything, but we know it was a semi-final,” Newport said. “We knew we had to win that game to get into the championship, so we were very focused and ready to do what we had to do.” 

In the CWPA Championship game, junior Casey Barragan scored less than a minute into the game to give the Vikings an early lead. After an Akau goal in the second frame, the Vikings led 5-3 at halftime. After a couple of Augie goals in the third quarter, the team took a 10-6 lead going into the fourth quarter and never looked back. When the final second ticked off, the Vikings had won the CWPA Division III Conference Championship for the second straight year. 

“Before the game, Lizzie Pelzman, who is one of our captains, said ‘We did not put our bodies through training for four months to come in second place,’” Barragan said. “I believe that those words fired up our team never to give up and to give 110% in the water when we were in. Those words were something we needed to hear.”

Barragan was named the tournament’s most valuable player for the second straight year, while Newport and Akau were named to the CWPA All-Tournament First Team. In addition, First-Year Susan Palmentera-Reid was also named to the All-Tournament Second Team. 

“I am happy, and my confidence in myself has grown, but I can’t help but think that some members of my team deserve more,” Barragan said. “I may have scored the goals, but if it weren’t for my teammates, I would never have been able to do that.”

The Viking’s three wins in the tournament pushed their winning streak to 12 games and also improved their overall record to 19-3. Next, they’ll head to the USA Water Polo Division III National tournament on May 4-5.

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