SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Santa Clara women's water polo team opens the 2017 season Saturday when it travels to face Cal State Monterey Bay.
The Broncos and Otters will meet at noon from the Aquatic Center in Seaside, California.
Santa Clara won both matchups last season, knocking off Cal State Monterey, 16-9, on Jan. 20, in the season opener and 13-4 on March 12.
The Broncos will need to replace four productive seniors from last year's squad, but welcomes 11 newcomers.
Elle Surber (42) and Elizabeth Anderson (39) finished first and second on the team in goals, Erin Sheridan (38) was tops in assists, and Sydni Estrella was the No. 1 goalkeeper.
There will be a youth movement with the Broncos this season as 14 of the 22 players on the roster are freshmen and sophomores.
Francesca Puccinelli, Keri Clifford, Cathy Cantoni, Kathryn Burke, Blair Akerland and Susan Providenza comprise this year's senior class. Cantoni and Puccinelli will serve as captains.
The Broncos return 11 players who saw action last season.
Hannah Buck, a 2016 All-Golden Coast Conference freshman team pick, is top returning scorer and will be asked to take on a new role.
"I think Hannah has been looking really good in practice, she will probably be our primary set, and I think she'll do a really good job there", head coach Keith Wilbur said.
Returning senior goalie, Francesca Puccinelli, started 13 games last season and tallied 142 saves, seven steals, and three assists.
Wilbur compliments her "strong work ethic" and athleticism. He intends to use her strengths in the cage to the team's advantage and provide leadership as one of the team captains.
Cathy Cantoni and Susan Providenza will also be key cogs. Both started all 26 games last season. In addition, Blair Akerland played in 25 games, registering 10 assists and 11 steals, and Keri Clifford played in each contest in 2016.
With so few returners, Wilbur notes the change in the team dynamic. "I think the production overall is going to be more of an all-around team effort than looking at one player to do what they were doing."
New to the team are 10 freshmen and junior Nicole Blaney, who rejoined the program, and so far that group has brought energy to early season practices.
"Half of our roster is the freshman class, so it's kind of new and they're a fun group to work with. They bring a lot of energy, a good vibe to practice, so I think practice has been fun."
It's early to determine where the newcomers slot in the lineup.
"We have a really big freshman class", Wilbur said. "I think the group has good chemistry, good energy, and they're going to get better throughout the year."
Last year's schedule had the Broncos away from home for the first 12 games, but after playing Cal State Monterey Bay on the road in the season opener, the Broncos will be home for three straight. The home opener on Thursday features a matchup with Hawaii, which is ranked No. 8 in the nation.
"We're playing a lot of different levels of teams which I think is good," Wilbur said. "It's a good test to see where we are and what we can do, in different types of situations."
The Broncos play their Golden Coast Conference opener on Feb. 10 at San Diego State and will remain in the area for the annual Triton Invitational the following two days.
"This is a really good tournament with 16 teams, with many of them ranked," Wilbur said. "We usually have some tough games down there, but it's a good challenge during the season to kind of build upon."
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