Water polo kicks off 2015 campaign with strong roster

Azusa Pacific water polo is embarking on yet another rigorous season. Seven of the Cougars’ 2015 opponents are among the top 20 nationally ranked varsity programs by the Collegiate Water Polo Association.

Despite the difficult schedule, APU is returning the heart and soul of the team: the top three goal scorers and goalie. The team is looking to improve from its 16-21 record last season.

“I see a very diligent work ethic, a pretty high level of talent among my starting players and a drive that we never had before, a drive to win and not complacency,” said fourth-year head coach Julie Snodgrass, “a drive and a motivation to be excellent, to push through difficulties and strenuous circumstances.”

The Cougars are returning their most-decorated player, Maryann Slama. The junior captain was the team-leading scorer last season with 56 goals, which included 10 hat tricks. She also recorded a team-high 46 steals in addition to 37 assists. Slama earned Golden Coast Conference honors for outstanding play.

Taylor Whitney comes into the season as the leading scorer in school history with 143 goals over the past three seasons. The senior scored 51 goals last season in just 29 games, 12 of which were multi-score contests. Sophomore Megan Meyers is the team’s third-highest scorer with 38 goals and 24 assists in 2014.

The top three goal scorers were primarily set up by junior Courtney Folsom, who led the team with 45 assists while also contributing 31 goals.

In the net for the second season is Katie Margot. The junior set a school record of 297 saves last year and will be joining Slama as a team captain.

“Katie [Margot] has taken a very vocal leadership role and pushing that drive, hard work and that go, go, go attitude,” Snodgrass said. “Maryann [Slama] is more of a quiet leader. She leads through example, and she is always giving 110 percent.”

Slama noted the strides Margot has made strength-wise since last year.

“This preseason she has been killing it,” Slama said. “She is covering up any mistakes that we might have as a team; she always has our back.”

APU also welcomes new players to the 2015 roster, including freshman and transfers who are seeking to have an immediate impact on the team. Alba Espinar brings experience from Spain while two local women, Britt Harris and Ashley Taylor, helped lead their high school teams to league titles and CIF champion berths.

“It’s a really different dynamic than we’ve ever had since I have been here,” Slama said. “We have a lot more speed this year compared to previous years, and everyone works really well together.”

The team opened its 2015 campaign Jan. 23 at the UC Santa Barbara Winter Invitational. The Cougars ended the weekend with their first win of the season over Sonoma State after dropping the first three games to top-ranked No. 14 UCSB, No. 4 Cal and No. 5 Arizona State.