The UCLA women’s water polo team is poised to open its season on the road this weekend, playing in the Michigan Kick-Off, a tournament the team has dominated for the past two years, winning all seven games it has played.
Last year, the Bruins got off to a quick 3-0 start after beating Colorado State, Indiana and Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. UCLA will be playing the same opponents this year in addition to San Diego State.
The team is heading into the tournament with a relatively young team after suffering the departures of key scorers KK Clark, Sarah Orozco and Hannah Sebenaler, and veteran goalkeeper Caitlin Dement, all of whom graduated last spring.
Despite the losses of these star players, coach Brandon Brooks believes the Bruins still have a competitive team.
“We are missing some strong players from last year, but I think that we have very strong players still. I don’t expect (that losing key players is going) to affect us negatively,” Brooks said. “I think that we are going to have to change (and) we are going to have to adapt.”
The Bruins will have two returning top scorers in junior utility Becca Dorst and senior utility Emily Greenwood, who were tied for the third-highest goal total of the team last season with 27 goals each.
Dorst doesn’t feel the need to be one of the team’s top scorers once again or the pressure to fulfill the role.
“I don’t like to think of it as pressure, obviously I want to do as good as I can, but we have some really good incoming freshmen that are going to make a difference in our offense,” said Dorst.
The team has eight freshmen on its roster, many of whom have international playing experience and can complement Dorst in the water.
“I just want to be as able as possible in the water. If the ball comes to me, that is great, if I score, that is awesome, but I am also looking for other people – to set them up as well.”
The outcome of the Michigan Kick-Off with the new team will act as a measuring stick for tougher competition the Bruins will face later in the season, but at the moment, the absence of key players from last year isn’t something that worries Greenwood too much.
“We have a really good team (and) we have a really good support system – it is never just one player, it’s a team game. There is always a little bit of pressure, but I feel like everyone (shares it equally),” Greenwood said.
“We play as a team, we win as a team, and we lose as a team.”