LOS ANGELES - 2011 Western Water Polo Association champion UC San Diego was picked to finish runner-up to perennial favorite Loyola Marymount in the 2012 WWPA Preseason Coaches' Poll, it was announced Monday.
LMU received 62 total points and six first-place votes, becoming the favorite to win its ninth WWPA title in 12 years. The Tritons garnered three first-place votes and 59 points. UCSD topped LMU 13-11 to win the WWPA title and earn the school's first appearance at the NCAA National Championships last season.
"I think it's a true sign of respect from the other coaches in this conference to hold us in such high regards, especially with the talent that our conference has," said UCSD head coach Brad Kreutzkamp. "Obviously being defending champions has its challenges and we know that teams will be ready for us every time we suit up. Our conference is strong top to bottom, but I think we have the talent to play with anyone as we look to defend our title."
Santa Clara and Colorado State were tabbed to finish third and fourth in this year's poll, respectively. The Broncos, who finished the 2011 season with a 7-4 win to place third in the WWPA championships, earned 47 points. Colorado State, who finished last season in fifth place, earned 40 points in the poll.
Rounding out the Preseason Coaches' Poll is Cal State East Bay (38 points), CSU Bakersfield (31 points), Sonoma State (23 points), Cal State Monterey Bay (14 points) and Cal State San Bernardino (10 points).
12 WWPA All-Conference selections from the 2011 season are slated to return to their respective squads. Four first-team honorees will be back: Player of the Year Kimberly Benedetti and teammate Casey Flacks from LMU, Megan Pezzolla from CSU Bakersfield and Claire Pierce from Cal State East Bay. UCSD's Kirsten Bates, a second-team selection and first-team All-Tournament selections, returns to aid the Tritons to back-to-back conference titles.
The Tritons put together a 9-1 WWPA record in 2011, their only loss coming to LMU at home on February 18, 2011. However, UCSD would recover with six consecutive conference wins to finish the regular season and then go 3-0 at the WWPA Tournament to take home its first league crown since 2000. The Tritons' victory over the Lions in the title game on May 1, 2011 was their first win over LMU since 2008.
On January 4, UC San Diego received its highest preseason ranking since 2008 when the Collegiate Water Polo Association announced the Tritons as the 15th-ranked team in the nation. The Tritons took home seventh-place at last year's NCAA Tournament and finished 2011 ranked No. 14.
The Tritons' conference competition gets underway this week with a tilt at Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colo. on Thursday, January 26. UCSD topped the Rams 10-6 in the only contest between the teams on April 10, 2011 at The Bronco in Santa Clara, Calif. UCSD is 6-1 against the Rams since 2008.
After opening conference play, the team will travel to Maryland for the Terrapin Invitational, January 28-29. The Tritons will face Wagner, No. 20 Maryland and Marist while in College Park, Md.
Two weeks later, UCSD will host its annual Triton Invitational, February 11-12 at Canyonview Aquatic Center. 11 of the Top 20 teams in the CWPA Coaches' Poll will be in attendance. Click here for more information.