Sarah Lizotte has played a huge role in the UC San Diego women's water polo team's 3-1 start to the year. She scored 20 goals over four games, including a career-high eight scores in the Tritons' 15-10 win over Marist on January 29 at the Terrapin Invitational. She shot 58-percent on the week (20-for-34) while adding five assists and eight ejections drawn. The sophomore utility out of Riverside, Calif. stopped by to discuss this year's team, her career to date and the school's potential move to NCAA Division I.
You're off to a pretty solid start at 3-1 so far this season. How has the team looked to you at this point?
Well, I don't think we've had too great of a start. We should have gone 4-0 when we went to the East Coast, but ended up 3-1. It was kind of an eye-opener for us. I think we have a lot to work on. I think everyday we get in here and we see what we have to work on, so we're pushing ourselves to be better at the things we should have done better in Maryland.
11 of the Top 20 teams in the nation are coming into town this weekend for the Triton Invitational. How is the team preparing for the tournament and how do you expect to perform?
I think the East Coast trip a couple of weeks again helped us realize what we need to work on. We're going to come out against Santa Barbara and hopefully kick some butt. They're ranked ahead of us and I'm excited to play them. We should be able to do some damage.
You've averaged five goals per game so far this season and had a career-high eight goals in your last game at Marist. How have you seen your role evolve on your team since last season?
My role is to score, (head coach) Brad (Kreutzkamp) reminds me of that often. But I want my role to be more than just scoring goals. I want to help my team defensively. I think that's our team's biggest priority right now. In order to win games right now we have to score 15 or 16 goals to win a game and that's just not realistic. We can't expect to go into a game against Cal and expect to score 15 goals to win. If I improve my defense, it will help my game offensively as well.
In 2011, the team won the WWPA Championship for the first time since 2000 and made the school's first appearance at the NCAA Championships. How was that experience for you and the team?
We flew out to Michigan as a team and one of our teammate's (Kelsey Schultz) family actually lives in Ann Arbor. We got to visit her family and see her home. A lot of the parents went out to Michigan to watch us and cheer us on in the stands. It was actually really cool. To get to play at that caliber was amazing, an awesome experience. I want to do that for the next three years. Our first game was against Cal... and, I mean, a lot of the teams here won't have the opportunity to play Cal or a UCLA. To be on the same level as those teams was an absolutely awesome experience.
Your team lost a couple of key seniors- Hanalei Crowell and Felicia Orozco- in the spring who were key last year's NCAA Tournament run. What's the biggest difference between this year's team and last year's squad?
I think it's a big difference. I think Hana and Felicia contributed a lot to the team and we relied on them a whole lot. Felicia had an awesome left hand and Hana was our best defensive player. I think by losing them we've struggled a little bit to replace them so far. But we've only played four games and we have so long to go and so many more games to get through before conference.
The team pulled an upset in last year's WWPA championship game, 13-11, over Loyola Marymount, who had won the previous two tournaments. This year, the WWPA Championship Tournament will be here in La Jolla at Canyonview Pool. Does that make you feel a little bit more pressure to repeat as WWPA champs?
I feel pressure. We beat them last year and there's a little bit of a weight on our shoulders to beat them again. I think we will. We have all the motivation in the world. At the same time, we can't get ahead of ourselves and think we're going to blow by them. The games are going to be a struggle and that's something we're going to need to overcome. When we play them next month, we'll see how it goes. It is going to be awesome to have WWPA's here, just playing at home and having the home crowd- our family and our friends- is going to be really cool.
The UCSD men's team currently holds the WWPA title and the women's team currently holds the WWPA title. It is the first time that has happened since 2000. What does that mean to you and what does it say about water polo at UCSD?
We're a growing sport here at UCSD. I joke with Ken (Senior Associate Athletic Director Ken Grosse) about how one cares about us and will come to our games. (laughs) He's like "What are you talking about?!" I think that we're a growing sport and more and more people keep coming out. The men had so many more people out at their games this year and I think that's what is important for our programs. We play better when we have more people watching and supporting us.
You're team is one of the few programs at UCSD to play NCAA Division I teams regularly throughout the season. What are your thoughts on the athletics department possibly moving to the Division I level?
I want this to happen so badly. I probably talk about it every day. I'm really excited and I think it's a great opportunity. I don't know if students here really think that way yet though. When I talk to people about it, I try to put it a more academic sense. When you leave here and go apply for jobs, you're going to want people to say, "Oh you went to UCSD!" Honestly, some people don't even know we exist. But if you say, "I went to UCLA or Stanford," people will recognize those school names. Why do they recognize those schools? Because of their athletics. It has a lot to do with it. I think that UCSD can be that. By the time I graduate and I'm in the workforce, I hope that UCSD is DI. And I hope my potential employer will say, "Hey that's a great school, your basketball team or baseball team is outstanding!" That'd be awesome.
How do you think the higher profile of a Division I athletics program can help the school's academic reputation as well?
If we move to DI, we'll bring in athletes, and most importantly people, that are great. That's not going to lower our academic standards at all; which is what our school is all about. We'll be giving athletes an opportunity to compete here for a school that's academically great. Right now, we can't offer scholarships and it turns so many great people and athletes away. If we move DI, that's not going to happen. We're in a great location- San Diego is beautiful- and we have a great school. Athletically, we have the potential to be great on that level. We're already doing great things in Division II. Making this move is going to make history.
You weren't able to play the first half of your freshman season, but you finished with 46 goals on the season- third-most on the team. How did missing the first half of last season motivate you the rest of the year and into this season?
Missing the first half was the worst feeling I've ever experienced in my life. I hated knowing I was going to go to practice and not play. The feeling I got when the team traveled without me was terrible- I remember when the team went to Santa Barbara on the first trip of the season last year and I wasn't going. I walked outside and Mel (Melissa Bartow) was getting ice out of the machine, and I was almost crying, saying, "Mel I'm going to miss you so much!" I never want to experience that again and I don't want any of my teammates experiencing that. As far as motivation, it was the most I could possibly ask for. I never wanted something so badly. I went out and got a 3.5 GPA and killed it! I got back and our first game was in Hawaii. That was an awesome experience and I'm lucky I was able to see what I needed to fix.
Since you've been playing, the team has traveled to Hawaii, Michigan, Colorado and Maryland. How have you seen this team grow together on those trips?
We're really, really close outside of the water. We're all friends, no drama. It's really nice, it's a great atmosphere to be around. As a coach, I'm sure that Brad loves hearing that we hang out outside of practice. That's what you want. You want your teammates to get along with and like each other. It's something that definitely applies in the water.
When did you first realize you had an opportunity to play collegiate water polo?
When I was in high school, I had a coach my sophomore year who had never pushed me so much. He kind of opened my eyes to this world of college polo. At that point, I was like I can do this! So I switched clubs and really started pushing myself to get there.
When you're not playing water polo, what do you enjoy the most about being at UCSD?
I think UCSD is a great atmosphere outside of whatever sport you're in. There's a great athletic atmosphere here- all the student-athletes are really close. It's nice to get away from your sport. My roommate, Stephanie Yano, plays basketball. I like getting out to go see her game and get away from the pool because I'm here all the time. Other than that, school is a pain but it is what it is. It's tough playing water polo, traveling and doing well in school but it's okay.
What does the future hold for Sarah Lizotte after college?
I'm a communications major and I want to be a sports reporter. I think women sports reporters are a bit underrated. I think it is something I can work for. I love sports and being a part of them. I think I'd be pretty good.
How would you define this year as successful for you and the team?
For me, I want to improve on the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Defensively, I want to make more steals, block more shots and be a more of a defensive role player for us. For the team in general, our goal is to win conference and go to NCAA's again. We take it one game at a time, but we also look at the big picture and want to improve every game so we're playing our best when we get to the conference championships.
Previous Q & A Articles
Brian Donohoe (Men's Water Polo) September 4, 2011
Roxanne Brunsting (Women's Volleyball) August 19, 2011
Jon Pascale (Men's Soccer) August 4, 2011
Jon Pascale (Men's Soccer) August 4, 2011
Vincent Nguyen (Tennis) July 1, 2011
Patti Gerckens (Softball) May 26, 2011
Blake Tagmyer (Baseball) May 11, 2011
Theresa Richards (Women's Track & Field) April 27, 2011
Austin West (Men's Tennis) April 17, 2011
Matt Herman (Men's Swimming & Diving) March 12, 2011
Christine Merrill (Women's Track & Field) June 14, 2010