Women’s Water Polo Ranked 1st in Preseason Polls

Dylan Anderman, Sports Editor

Following a second-place finish in the 2022 Western Water Polo Association Women’s Championship, the Pioneers start 2023 ranked first in the conference.

Each year, the coaches place votes to predict the season standings. From a total of eight coaches, CSUEB received four first-place votes this year, leaving the Pioneers with a lot of start-of-season confidence.

Last spring, the CSUEB water polo team dealt with a heartbreaking loss in the championship game. They fell short in a four-overtime thriller against Salem University, with a final score of 11-10 to end the Pioneer’s season.

Success has always been prevalent in the CSU East Bay Women’s Water Polo team. Lisa Cooper, Head Coach for the Pioneers, has played a huge part in that. Cooper is going into her 21st season, tallying 311 wins and two coach-of-the-year awards from the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches.

The team lost eight of their players from last year. This included star drivers Auriel Bill and Adrien Van Dyke who both received Division II First Team honors four times and both received player of the year awards throughout their collegiate careers. The two drivers also finished among the top five in CSU East Bay history for multiple statistical categories. Copper commented on the loss of her drivers saying, “[They] left some big shoes to fill for sure.” However, Cooper seems optimistic about this year’s talent by saying, “I am very excited to see who on the team steps up.”

While big losses have occurred, the team is returning seven players including their First Team Goalkeeper Daniela Passoni. Cooper spoke highly of her All-American goalkeeper. “Dani, in my opinion, is one of the best goalkeepers in the world.” Praising the goalkeeper’s talent and ambition, Cooper stated, “She is one of the most hardworking, dedicated, and kindest players I have ever coached. She is our captain, and the backbone of our defense and is a wall in the cage.” Cooper has coached multiple Hall of Fame and All-American athletes, in addition to Passoni.“I trust her the most out of any goalie that has ever played for me. I am so excited for her to lead our team this year,” Cooper continued.

Along with the returners, four transfers and three freshmen joined the Pioneers this year. Over time Cooper has established a strong culture within her team year in and year out. This culture has contributed to the longstanding success of the program. “We do a lot of work in our team culture and our foundation is very strong… I am excited for this group as a whole. I am really impressed how the new players have bought into the team culture and work ethic, and how my returning group of players have really been great, leading by example and helping the new players with everything,” Cooper stated.

With the season kicking off this past weekend, Daniela Passoni is prideful of her team. Noting their appearance in the WWPA championship, Passoni stated “I have every confidence that we can make it there again.” She continues by appreciating Cooper, “[She] is a passionate coach… [She] only recruits players who are devoted and eager to learn. This knowledge is what creates a great team atmosphere of respect.”

Passoni along with many of her teammates are from all around the world. From diverse backgrounds, each player brings something special to the table. Admiring the team’s diversity, Passoni said, “We all recognize each other’s journey. At the end of the day, we are a chosen family bonded by our love for the game.”

East Bay plays various Division I opponents throughout the year to help prepare them for another run through the postseason. High expectations are put on these young women and as the team ranked first in the conference, this season, there is undoubtedly a target on their backs. However, the culture, preparation, coaches, and bond between the team created a family and they have proved time and time again that they are ready for the challenges ahead.

Just this weekend on Jan. 28 and 29, the team played in a tournament against competitive Division I teams. Concluding the tournament with a strong 2-2 record, it is clear that it has begun and the run for a WWPA championship has come.