UH hopes to make splash at NCAAs
By Ann Miller
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Ann Miller
It took seven years for Hawai'i water polo to float back to where it finished its inaugural season. Now the Rainbow Wahine have an opportunity to go where they have never gone before.
Coach Shari Smart started the program with an introductory cannon ball in 1998. Hawai'i finished fourth in the NCAA its first year, with abundant aid from Canadian Olympian Marie-Luc Arpin.
The 'Bows did not reach the top seven again until last year, when third-year coach Michel Roy took UH to another fourth.
Two weeks ago, the Rainbow Wahine served up the upset of the season, and probably the most memorable win in their history, when they shocked previously unbeaten Southern California in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals.
"They panicked more than we did," Roy said of the Trojans.
"Our shots, for once, were all on," added freshman Kelly Mason, second on the team with 56 goals. "I felt a lot calmer in that game. It was really relaxing. We had just won the game that got us into nationals."
UH lost the championship game to Stanford — "We ran out of juice," Roy said with a shrug — and picked up an at-large berth in the NCAA Championship that starts tomorrow at Davis, Calif.
The win might have kick-started the confidence of Hawai'i and every other team the Trojans trampled this season, but it had no impact on national seedings. USC is No. 1, followed by Stanford, defending NCAA champion UCLA and UH.
The 'Bows (17-10) battle fifth-seeded host UC Davis (20-11) in tomorrow's feature match.
The top three take on a trio that needs introduction outside the pool: No. 8 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps from California, No. 7 Marist, from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and No. 6 Hartwick, from Oneonta, N.Y.
UC Davis, the Western Water Polo Association champion, is ranked third nationally in defense (of 61 NCAA teams) at 4.5 goals a game. Junior center Katherine O'Rourke was WWPA MVP with 46 goals and converts 55 percent of her shots. She has drawn 48 exclusion penalties.
If Hawai'i wins tomorrow, it gets USC again in a Saturday semifinal. Roy, the MPSF Coach of the Year, is not sure if that's good or bad.
He thinks the Trojans might be shell-shocked after listening to their coach scream at them the past two weeks. Or, they could "play like gods" after being humbled by a team they had beaten 21 straight times dating to Hawai'i's inaugural season.
What Roy does know is his team. He has the MPSF MVP in sophomore Iefke Van Belkum, who led the MPSF in scoring and had 11 goals in four MPSF Championship games.
Van Belkum has world-class talent, and intuition and instinct that can't be taught, according to Roy, who believes her greatest gift might be a bad memory.
"Iefke can forget right away," Roy said. "She can miss four shots and still shoot the fifth."
These will be Van Belkum's final games with UH for at least a year. She will return to The Netherlands to try and help her national team qualify for the 2008 Olympics.
Meike De Nooy, the 'Bows' Dutch goalie, plans to remain in Manoa for her final season. She is a second-team MPSF selection and has been a big reason for Hawai'i's 11-4 record to close the season.
"We feel like we can win every match now," De Nooy said. "The biggest thing for us is we had so many new players. The hardest part was becoming a team."
The Rainbows believe they debuted their 2006 team that memorable day against USC. Now they are looking for an even more memorable encore.
Michel Roy will be looking for a new assistant coach in the offseason. First-year assistant Coralie Simmons, who led UCLA to the inaugural women's water polo NCAA Championship in 2001, is leaving along with volunteer assistant Margie Dingeldein. Both played in the Olympics. Dingeldein will enter medical school.
Live scoring and play-by-play from the nationals will be available on the tournament Web site, accessible through ucdavisaggies.com.
Sunday's championship will be broadcast on CSTV cable (available to digital subscribers in Hawai'i) at 2 p.m. HST.
Reach Ann Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.