Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Women’s water polo dive into nationals, finish in third

Oshan Hamal
Sophomore Carli Udovich passes a throw during an Augustana College Women’s Water Polo team practice session for nationals at Lindberg on April 30, 2024.

The women’s water polo team finished their dominant season by placing third after competing in the USA Water Polo Division III National Championships on May 4 and 5. The Vikings finished their regular season 16-3 overall and 8-0 in conference games, which was the best regular season record so far in the young program’s history. 

Head Coach Ryan Pryor said he had seen the growth in the athletes and that the regular season was impressive.

“It’s been really successful,” Pryor said. “We’re on a six-game winning streak right now and 16-3 overall. We’ve had a lot of firsts, like beating a few teams for the first time and going undefeated in our league for the first time. We’re in our third year as a program, so we’re starting to get a little bit more experience and have upperclassmen for the first time, really.”

To start postseason play, the Vikings defeated Austin College in the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Conference championship to win the conference and clinch a spot in the National Championships. 

Junior Lizzie Pelzman said that the win helped ready the team for the national tournament. 

“I definitely think we do have momentum,” Pelzman said. “We’ve been really focusing more on the specifics these past two weeks, whereas the whole season you’re setting your game. I think we’ve been really narrowing down and are able to perform to a very high standard.”

In the program’s three year history, this is the third consecutive year they’ve made the national tournament. Pryor said that is a feat that is impressive for a young program, like Augustana and even more impressive for a team that is not located in California, where water polo is popular.

“No team outside of California has ever won a national championship in water polo and in any division,” Pryor said. “So to be able to have a chance at that would be huge, and then to be able to do it in our third year would be it would make it even more exciting. That’s definitely always been our ultimate goal.”

Preparation for an event as big as a national tournament not only takes physical work, but also mental work. The pressure of the event can always bring some nerves, but junior Annie Opal Dickson said that the amount of preparation helps her calm down. 

“I think there’s always some sort of nerves and uncertainty to it,” Dickson said. “But at the same time, we’ve been preparing for so long all season, so you just have to go in and trust yourself and trust your teammates. It is a lot of refining with no big changes.”

The Vikings traveled to Claremont, California to face off against the second-seed Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in their semifinal matchup. To start, Claremont scored five straight goals in the first quarter before junior Charlotte Newport added one to cut the score to 5-1. The early lead for the Athena proved to be too costly, as they pulled out a 23-9 win, despite three goals by the Vikings in the fourth quarter. 

“Claremont played a very good game. They knew how to work the ball and exactly what to do,” Pelzman said. “I think that kind of caught us off guard a little bit.”

The following third-place game saw the Vikings matched up against a familiar foe, Austin College, who the team previously defeated in the CWPA championship. In stark contrast to the last game, the team started the game scoring 6 straight goals in the first two quarters and holding Austin to zero. 

“We created so many successful opportunities, but the defense was amazing,” Pelzman said. “I was just astounded and especially being the goalie, I can sit and watch what they do on offense. I was just like, this is, like, the best.”

Entering the fourth quarter, the Vikings held a 9-3 advantage that was soon extended by First-Year Anita Rodgers, who scored two of her four total goals in the last frame of the game. The team finished the game holding a dominant 16-3 lead to secure a victory. Junior Ocean Akau added two goals as well as an assist to total 3 points in the game. Pelzman finished with a .813 save percentage with 13 saves on 16 shots. 

“We kept them to no goals in the first half. After that, I think there would have been a lot of pressure on my end to keep the shutout, but it definitely felt really good to win like that,” Pelzman said.

The team finishes the season 20-4 overall with a .833 win percentage, both of which are the season-best in program history. For the second consecutive season, they finished third in the national tournament. Pelzman says she is optimistic about the upcoming offseason and what they will prepare for next season.

“With a team that’s already been here for the majority of at least one year, I’m pretty confident in our ability,” Pelzman said. “I’m just excited to see how we grow and give it my all one final year next season.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Augustana Observer Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *