REGION — The San Diego State University women’s water polo team topped the University of Michigan 10-9 in a double-overtime, sudden-death game May 4 to become the school’s first National Collegiate Club Champions.
Meghan Harder scored the game-winning goal with less than 7 seconds on the clock in the final game of a three-day tournament in Geneva, Ohio.
“It’s still kind of sinking in,” coach Jamie Cassidy, a Solana Beach resident, said the day after returning home.
It was the Aztecs’ second appearance in the national club-team championships since joining the Collegiate Water Polo Association six years ago. Last year the team placed fifth, losing to California Polytechnic State University.
When Cassidy began coaching four seasons ago, there were 10 girls on the roster, and the team finished “in the middle of the pack” in the CWPA’s Pacific Coast Division.
“That first year was pretty rough,” she said.
This season, with 21 players, Cassidy was able to roster two teams and is the sole coach for both. “We’ve really grown in size and dedication,” she said. The girls were undefeated in league play and had only one loss in a tournament during the approximately 20-game season.
“I knew right away we had a very good shot at going to the championship tournament and going deep,” Cassidy said. “But you don’t know about the other teams you’ll be playing.”
Cassidy, who was named coach of the year for SDSU club sports, said she had about seven girls who could have played Division 1 but opted not to for various reasons.
“They really advanced everyone to the next level,” she said. “That pushed everyone to work harder.”
She said camaraderie is also a key to the team’s success.
“They are all friends. They all live together,” Cassidy said. “When anyone wins (an award) the girls are so excited for each other. There’s no jealousy and no one’s upset. They realize they needed each other for this to happen. Their one common goal was to win it all. It didn’t matter who scored the winning goal.”
The roster includes Morgan Klingfus, Kathryn Enstad, Nina Escobedo, Jessie Espera, Madeline Schwartz, Bailey Wickliffe, Mary Abary, Meghan Harder, Kelli Boling, Tara DeRosier, Kathryn Andrews, Natalie Parker, Addison Gosslein, Jenny Waters, Allison Tester, Carolina Conway, Kim Fraisse, Nicole Ryder, Agy Socha, Bridget Poland and Allie Jackson.
All are Californians except Tester, who is from Texas. San Diegans include Escobedo, DeRosier, Andrews, Waters and Ryder. Several coach at area high schools such as Canyon Crest Academy and Scripps Ranch and Grossmont College. Parker referees high school games.
Cassidy said the athletes play to stay in shape, meet new people — especially the freshmen — or make lifelong friends. Her goal is to have them look back and realize the benefit of being part of the team.
“I want to help them grow,” she said. “I try to help them with internships so they leave as well-rounded individuals. I want them to know they have someone in their corner when they get out of college.”
To that end Cassidy plans to bring in guest speakers — most likely female professionals — to guide the players with future career goals.
“I wish I had something like that in college,” she said.
Cassidy currently works at Pear Sports, a Solana Beach company that produces a “mobile training intelligence” system.
She coaches at night and is paid, but not a lot. She played water polo and swam in high school and college, but the sport is more of a hobby now, she said.
“I enjoy it. The money’s not important. I just want to give back,” she said.
The team receives a small stipend from the university, but club members, unlike Division 1 athletes, pay to play. The cost is $250 for the first semester and $300 for the second semester, which is club season for women.
Teams don’t know until about three weeks before the tournament if they will be going so the last-minute plane tickets were pricey — $780 each. Other expenses included hotel rooms, transportation, food and an entry fee. The ladies had to come up with at least $250 each.
Fundraising efforts took in $10,000 and included donations from parents and Division 1 water polo players.
“Some girls didn’t go because of work, the money and finals,” Cassidy said. “But I don’t want money to be a problem.”
With only two graduating seniors, Cassidy is looking forward to another successful season next year and is hoping to secure sponsors to help fund future trips Ohio.
Anyone interested in sponsorship information can contact Cassidy at email@example.com.