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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, May 13, 2006

Rainbow Wahine advance to semifinals

By Edward de la Fuente
Special to The Advertiser

DAVIS, Calif. For three quarters yesterday the University of Hawai'i found itself back on its heels, fighting to keep up with an unfamiliar but aggressive opponent.

The experience that comes from playing against collegiate water polo's most rugged competition finally surfaced in the fourth quarter, when the Rainbow Wahine scored five unanswered goals and finished with a 12-7 win over the UC Davis, advancing to the semifinals of the NCAA championships.

UC Davis, making its first NCAA appearance, provided a tough challenge for UH (18-10). Playing in their home pool, the Schall Aquatic Center, and in front of a basketball gym-sized rooting section, the fifth-seeded Aggies matched the No. 4 Rainbow Wahine goal for goal the two teams were tied at 7 following the third quarter, and neither team had been able to jump ahead by more than a goal.

"It was almost like we had to wake up and realize we were playing a game of water polo," UH goalie Meike De Nooy said. "By the fourth quarter, everyone was playing as a team."

In the final period, UH not only excelled offensively, it shut the Aggies down defensively. De Nooy made three saves, including one on a penalty shot, and by the game's final three minutes the Rainbow Wahine had control of the match.

"I've never seen UC Davis play, ever," UH coach Michel Roy said of the Western Water Polo Association champs. "I had no tape. I've never scouted them. They came out prepared to play."

The Rainbow Wahine advanced to the NCAA semifinals for the second straight year. In today's 3 p.m. (Hawai'i time) semifinal, UH faces a much more familiar foe top-seeded Southern California, which posted a 27-2 quarterfinal victory over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps earlier yesterday.

USC beat UH handily in each of the teams' three regular-season matches, but the Rainbow Wahine dealt the Trojans one of their two losses, in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation semifinals on April 14.

Ultimately, playing in the fiercely competitive MPSF helped UH stave off UC Davis.

"That came out in the fourth quarter for us," Roy said. "You know how to deal with the stress and the pressure."

It took the Rainbow Wahine a while to adjust because UC Davis coach Jamey Wright made it a point to put the defensive clamps on UH's top two goal-scorers, Iefke Van Belkum and Kelly Mason. With the pair limited to one goal through the first three quarters, junior Anna Sieprath scored five times.

"They gave me more space," Sieprath said. "A few of them, I was in the right place at the right time and just shot them."

Mason finally broke through with 5:33 remaining, breaking the tie for good. She scored again 49 seconds later and added an insurance goal later in the period. Van Belkum scored twice in the quarter as well, and the Rainbow Wahine finally took on the look of a powerhouse.

In the other quarterfinals, No. 2 Stanford beat Marist, 17-2, and No. 3 UCLA beat Hartwick, 15-2. Stanford, which beat UH for the MPSF tournament title, and UCLA play in the other semifinal.

(5) UC DAVIS 2 2 3 0 7

(4) HAWAI'I 2 2 3 512

UC Davis: Cassie Schaefer 3, Casie Mota 1, Christi Raycraft 1, Sofia Patronas 1, Katherine O'Rourke 1. Hawai'i: Anna Sieprath 5, Kelly Mason 3, Iefke Van Belkum 3, Kristy Bagnall 1.