Bulldogs ready to make splash in tourney

Emily Nicholson (above) has been one of the top scorers on the team, accumulating 57 points this season, while also being one of the most consistent shooters with a shooting percentage of 701. (Photo courtesy of Fresno State Athletics)

The Fresno State women’s water polo team is getting ready to host the Golden Coast Conference championship from April 26 to 28 at the Fresno State Aquatics Center.

Coming off a win against Concordia University over the weekend, the team is carrying a three-game winning streak and good momentum toward the conference championship.

After a 2018 season that saw the team go 7-18 overall, the water polo team has improved to a 12-14 overall record and is looking to win the conference championship for the first time in the program’s history.

Early in the season, the Bulldogs had a tough schedule, playing 10 consecutive away games, all against ranked opponents.

During those games, the Bulldogs played against the No. 1, 2 and 3 ranked teams in the nation. The Bulldogs also defeated the No. 11 and 13 ranked teams, which helped them get national recognition early in the season.

The program has been in the national rankings since early in the season and is currently the No. 18 team in the nation.

With a 4-3 conference record, the team is currently seeded No. 4 in the tournament and will face Azusa Pacific University in the first round.

Both Azusa and the Bulldogs finished tied for fourth place in conference play. However, the ‘Dogs took the tiebreaker due to their win over Azusa 11-8 in the regular season.

With both teams coming off three straight wins, the Bulldogs will have a tough matchup against a team that had 17 wins in the regular season.

Head coach Natalie Benson is confident in her team and knows that their biggest challenge in the tournament will be University of the Pacific, which went undefeated in conference play and is seeded No. 1 in the tournament.

“During our path, if we do well in the first game, it looks like we’ll be playing the defending champion University of the Pacific,” Benson said. “They are proven to be the toughest competitor in our conference … they are consistent, always strong and are a well experienced team that have been here before.”

Pacific finished the regular season 14-8 and 7-0 in conference play with a six-game winning streak coming into the conference championship.

Benson also said that the team is ready for the conference championship and that it has been something they have been waiting for all season.

“It’s fun for (the team) to host this tournament and play at home in front of their families,” Benson said. “The vibe has been really good around training these last couple of days. They have been working really hard and really competing in practice, so I believe they are ready to go for this weekend.”

Benson believes her team has made great improvements from its first year as a program and wants this season to be a benchmark for its success.

“We are already much better this year than what we were last year in our record. But also, we played much better competition this year than last year,” Benson said. “Last year we won one game in our conference tournament, so if we can win two games this year that would be a step in the right direction for this team.”

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