The 15th-ranked UC San Diego Women’s Water Polo team will be hosting the seventh annual Western Water Polo Assn. (WWPA) Championship, Friday through Sunday, at Canyonview West Pool. The winner of the tournament gains an automatic berth in the NCAA Championships, slated for May 12-14 at UC Davis. One of the key players for the fourth-seeded Tritons will be driver Flynn LaRochelle. The senior out of Napa’s Vintage High School is one of Coach Larry Sanders’s co-captains and a leader in and out of the water. “Flynn’s really blossomed this year,” says Sanders. “She’s always been a solid defender and a good decision-maker but her off-season work has helped make her more of an offensive threat. That’s something we’re going to need this weekend. She gives us another outside option and puts more pressure on the opposing defense.” On the eve of the Championship, LaRochelle took time to talk about her team and give an overview of the tourney.
Q-UCSD has not won the WWPA Championship since the inaugural tournament in 2000. Is that something the team talks about?
LaROCHELLE—Not really. It’s something we’re all aware of but our goal every year is to win this tournament. We’re ready to play and it should be very competitive but we don’t really dwell on that aspect.
Q-You’re seeded fourth. How does the team feel about being in that position?
LaROCHELLE—I think we’re all feeling pretty determined after being upset twice (by UC Davis and Santa Clara) at the Davis Tournament. We have a lot of fire going into this weekend and especially want to get another shot at the top three teams.
This is the first year we’ve been ranked this low going into the Championship but we’re not discouraged about it. You’ve got to beat those teams if you want to finish first so the order doesn’t really matter.
Q-What would make this a successful tournament from your perspective?
LaROCHELLE—Obviously, we want to come out with a win but I think we’ll all be satisfied if we each go out and leave it all in the pool. We’ve worked hard as a team to get where we are and we have the tools to win—it’s a matter of coming out and performing. Every game between the top four teams has come down to the last seconds so we’ve got to be ready to compete.
Q-How would you evaluate UCSD’s chances?
LaROCHELLE—I would say we have a very good chance to win this thing. As I said, the top four are very comparable and almost all of the games between us have been decided by one goal. None have been blow outs like there have been in past years.
It’s been great to be part of this team and I think we’ve really stepped up this year against higher-ranked teams. I expect that we’ll do it again in the next few days.
Q-How would you describe the three top-seeded teams?
LaROCHELLE—Loyola Marymount (No. 1 seed) has dominated the conference the last several years. They have a lot of quality players and are a big, physical, aggressive team.
UC Davis (No. 2) has a mix of strong players and scrappy, versatile players. They play with a lot of emotion. I think our two teams match up very well.
I don’t think Santa Clara (No. 3) is as dominant as LMU or UC Davis can be but they come to play every game and have made a statement over the last two years that they definitely belong among the WWPA’s top teams.
Q-Does playing the Championship in your own pool help?
LaROCHELLE—Definitely. We’ll have home court advantage so-to-speak. We’re used to playing and practicing in our beautiful new facility and hopefully, having a home crowd will be to our benefit.
Q-You’re a senior. How does it feel to know that this will be your last home weekend and could be the final weekend of your collegiate water polo career?
LaROCHELLE—It’s a fantastic opportunity. There’s no better way to end your career than having the conference championship weekend in your home pool.
After being part of it at other sites, I think we’ll have a little extra emotion. To come away with a win would be a fairy tale ending.