LEWISBURG, Pa. — The Bucknell University women’s water polo team is primed to have success in 2018. Expectations are high for the Bison, who return the majority of their starting lineup and will play host to April’s Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Championship.
“We’re a veteran team,” said head coach John McBride. “We’re getting back the bulk of our starting group, which is always good. They have high expectations for themselves, and they’re excited to have the chance to host the conference championship.”
Bucknell returns three of its top four leading point producers from a year ago in Emily Konishi (41 goals-55 assists), Marta Considine (48 goals-18 assists) and Colleen Barron (43 goals-11 assists). McBride said the trio, who accounted for nearly half of the Bison’s goals, should be even more effective at generating offense in 2018.
“They have a lot of experience, and they’re motivated to win,” McBride said. “They understand our system, and they’ve played together a lot because they rarely, if ever, sub out. They know where each other is going to be in the pool, and they really mesh well together.”
Konishi, the youngest of the group, enjoyed a stellar sophomore season in 2017, cracking Bucknell’s top 15 in single-season assists (t-4th) and single-season points (11th, 96). With 90 career assists, she stands in a tie for 12th in school history; if she matches her single-season average of 45, she will vault to fourth.
“Emily has been a very smart and consistent player,” McBride said. “She’ll have a significant impact in dictating our offensive and defensive tactics this year. We expect her to be a leader in the pool even more so than in the past because she’s now an upperclassman. Her leadership will be extremely valuable because of her high water polo IQ.”
Tegan Stanbach was also valuable piece of the Bison’s offense in 2017, finishing second on the team in goals (45) and tied for third in points (54), both career-high totals. With Stanbach, a three-year starter who posted 143 points (99g-44a) in her collegiate career, lost to graduation, McBride expects Sarah Mooney to step up.
“Tegan was a big presence in the pool, but I feel like Sarah will fill her role,” McBride said. “Sarah gained valuable experience as Tegan’s backup, and I believe she’ll be able to pick up where she left off.”
Defensively, Bucknell will again be led by Manuela Herrera, who started 26 games and made 173 saves in the cage a year ago. Herrera, who already ranks sixth in program history with 382 career stops, is expected to make her senior year her best yet.
“Manuela has been a solid goaltender,” McBride said. “She has all of the skills she needs to be successful. This should be her breakout year, and her teammates always play very confidently when she’s in the cage.”
And Herrera plays with confidence because she knows her teammates have her back. As a team, the Bison have always put defense first. In 2017, they allowed an average of 9.10 goals per game, holding their opponent to five or fewer six times. While Herrera played a large role in their success, reaching the double digits in saves three times, McBride said every player in the pool is expected to contribute defensively.
“We expect everybody to be better on defense than they are on offense,” McBride said. “Everybody is expected to block shots and play defense. It’s an important part of our system, and it leads to wins.”
One challenge the Bison will face this season is they will play the bulk of their schedule away from Kinney Natatorium. In 2017, they hosted nine games during the regular season; that total drops to four in 2018.
“It’s a tough year,” McBride said. “Depending on the CWPA schedule, some years we’re at home a lot and other years we’re away a lot. It’s always difficult to be on the road that much, but, if you’re winning, it’s not that much of a grind. I think it’s good, though, because I like adversity. I like when the team has to play under adverse conditions because I think it builds character. Being on the road a lot is definitely an adverse condition that will hopefully make the team stronger and closer.”
After their long road tour, the Bison will return to Kinney Natatorium for arguably the most important games of their season. Bucknell is set to host the CWPA Championship for the first time since 2014, when its current senior class was in its final year of high school; that tournament is slated for April 27-29.
“You always want to wake up in your own bed and go to the conference championship,” McBride said. “It’s great to host; they have to come to our pool, where we play well because we’re so familiar with it. Especially with the season we have, it’s great to end the year at home. It’ll be nice to finish at home after a long season of travel.”
Release courtesy Bucknell University Athletics Communications