Local water polo standouts return for NCAAs

UCLA's Burmeister just one of many former local preps competing at national championships at Stanford

Megan Burmeister remembers crying after her first ever water polo workout at Avery Aquatic Center with the Stanford club team.

These days, Burmeister is smiling a lot. The UCLA freshman returns to Stanford in glory. The top-ranked Bruins are undefeated and going for a fourth straight national title. She scored a goal in UCLA's 19-6 victory over Ponoma-Pitzer in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday.

"It was traumatic," Burmeister said of her first experience. "Every day I showed up between 6 and 8:30 a.m. since the seventh grade though. I've spent a lot of time here."

Burmeister, along with Bruins' teammate Camy Sullivan, also played at Stanford a few times as a member of the Menlo School girls' water polo team.

They could be matched against Stanford freshman Kim Krueger in Sunday's national championship game. It might be the only time Burmeister won't be cheering for a former teammate.

"Well, I hope she does well," Burmeister offered.

The three college freshmen, along with Michigan junior Kelsey Haley, were members of the 2004 Central Coast Section championship team. They were reunited in this weekend's NCAA tournament.

"It's very special to be from Menlo, a small school, and get the opportunity to play in college," Burmeister said. "Winning the CCS is always great but this is way different."

Haley, one of the Lady Wolverines' team captains, couldn't quite add up all the time she's played at Avery Aquatic Center. "A lot," was close enough.

"Every day for seven summers," Haley said.

These days she's helping Michigan take the next step. The Wolverines have been to the tournament before. Now they are looking to win.

"It's developed to the point where we were ranked 10th in the nation and beat a handful of ranked west coast teams," Michigan coach Matt Anderson said. "We've been competitive all year with anybody. This year we're seeing other teams developing stronger programs: Princeton, Maryland, Hartwick."

There's been a recent trend where players from California, the hotbed of the sport, are taking their chances at east coast schools. The Wolverines claim 14 California residents on their roster.

Anderson graduated from San Jose State and has coached at Los Gatos High and Santa Clara High before moving to the Big Ten.

"It's definitely different from California," Haley said. "We work out in an indoor pool and have to walk through snow to get to practice. But it's also a new experience."

Haley's teammate Mary Chatigny made it to Ann Arbor from Palm Springs.

"I was a desert rat," she said. "I never saw snow until I got to Michigan. But the sport has definitely grown. You see East Coast coaches recruiting in California but you also see East Coast players getting better. One of our best players last year came from Pennsylvania. California is such a powerhouse for water polo that you always have the best players playing against each other and that keeps you on an elite level. It's hard for the Midwest, where the fence has been broken down and the sport is not relatively well known."

UCLA coach Adam Krikorian and USC coach Jovan Vavic have each said they lost recruits to programs like Michigan and Marist.

"It's starting to happen more and more," Krikorian said. "While I'd like to stay on top, its good for the sport to develop parity. With more and more good players each year, they can't all go to Stanford, UCLA or USC."

"It's really a great advantage to have to compete against the top teams on a regular basis," Vavic said. "I hope other conferences can do the same and they are closing the gap. The more good teams, the better for the sport. I don't like losing a top player to anybody but I'd rather it be a Michigan than a team in the conference."

He may not be saying that in the next few years as more players are attracted to the East Coast.

Meanwhile, Haley is enjoying her time back home.

"It's great to be back with old teammates," Haley said. "It's always fun to see them in the water."

"It's always special to come here," Burmeister said, "especially when it's my first NCAA tournament."

Scoring a goal in her first NCAA contest was also special. "It was pretty sweet," she admitted. "I was a little nervous at first."

Sacred Heart Prep grad Melissa Mordell also scored a goal for the Bruins, and Sullivan was handling the ball as the game ended.


Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2008 at 8:32 pm

it's Pomona, not Ponoma.

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