With talent and tenacity, the University of Redlands women's water polo team achieved a 14-16 record overall and an even 7-7 mark in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) action to tie for fifth in the standings. This season, the Bulldogs captured the most overall and conference wins in Head Coach Chris Gielen's five-year career at Redlands, making moves in the right direction for future success.
The Bulldogs began the campaign with six consecutive home games between the Redlands Mini Tournament and Bulldog Invitational but struggled to get in the win column against tough competition. Nonetheless, the Maroon and Gray saw promise with solid performances throughout the opening days, including a three-goal effort from junior attacker Hunter Olivier (Indio, CA) and a 12-save showing from senior goalkeeper Kelly Grosswendt (Newbury Park, CA) in a difficult matchup against NCAA Division I opponent, Cal State Northridge, in the season opener.
Once the squad took to the road on February 23, it immediately found success with a three-game win streak. Redlands first traveled to Minnesota for the Macalester College (MN) Invite and opened with a solid 15-9 victory over Monmouth College (IL). Senior attacker Katelyn Jenkins (Bellevue, WA) and first-year attacker Holly Kvanvig (Beaverton, OR), notched the inaugural scores of the game and the Bulldogs never looked back. By the end of the first period, six different Bulldogs had found the back of the net for Redlands' 6-3 advantage. In addition to the team's strong offensive output, Grosswendt deferred 14 shots to aid in the win. Against Carthage College (WI), Grosswendt shut out the Lady Reds in the first half to propel her team to an 8-0 lead at the break. She went on to record 15 saves while only allowing two goals in the Bulldogs' 13-2 victory. In its third game of the day against the hosts, the Maroon and Gray endured a much tighter battle. The teams traded goals to a five-all draw midway through the second period, until the Bulldogs began clicking on all cylinders with six consecutive tallies for an 11-5 advantage. However, the momentum began to shift, as Macalaster scored four of the next five goals to cut its deficit to just three goals. Senior center Kolby Kahahawai (Kailua, HI) scored one more insurance goal at the 2:50-mark of the fourth, which helped the visitors to a 13-10 victory. By the final whistle, Kahahawai had notched a season-high seven goals, while Grosswendt had recorded a season-best 19 saves.
After a tough overtime loss to Virginia Military Institute (VA) on day two of the tournament, Redlands increased its win margin by seven goals from a day before in a 19-2 rout during the team's second meeting with Carthage. The Bulldogs only gave up one goal in each half, while 10 different players scored. First-year Nicolette Ramirez (Whittier, CA) fired off a career-high four goals in the triumph.
The Maroon and Gray carried that momentum back home in a SCIAC bout against the University of La Verne that featured a fourth-quarter shutout to lift the Bulldogs to a 10-8 win. The Leopards battled back to knot the game at 8-8 in the third, but goals from Kahahawai and sophomore defender Sarah Draves (Fallbrook, CA) gave Redlands enough
cushion to sustain the victory. Kahahawai and Grosswendt each registered three steals in a strong defensive effort.
Over the next two weeks, the Bulldogs battled through an up-and-down stretch that included wins over McKendree University (IL), Penn State – Behrend, and Chapman University. Redlands jumped out to a 5-0 lead against McKendree, with Jenkins and Kvanvig offering goals or assists on three of the netters. In addition, junior attacker Courtney Gray (Yucaipa, CA), sophomore center Alina Waldo (Portland, OR), and sophomore defender Jena Suzuki (Wailuku, HI) each found the back of the net. Sophomore attacker Kayla Takakura (Wailuku, HI) highlighted the 15-1 win over Behrend by notching three goals, an assist, and two steals. The Bulldogs rallied back to defeat Chapman in SCIAC action, with sophomore attacker Katelynn Holloman (Wildomar, CA) providing a huge goal late in the third, before senior attacker Sami Walker (Taylorsville, UT) scored the game-winner with 3:06 left in the contest.
After breaking open a 4-3 halftime tally, Redlands captured an impressive 12-4 win over Occidental College in mid-March. The Bulldogs gained second-half netters from five different players, with Kahahawai, Jenkins, senior attacker Wendy McAleer (Simi Valley, CA), and Takakura each converting power-plays in the fourth quarter.
The Bulldogs eclipsed the 10-win mark with a 16-7 victory over Austin College (TX) on March 14. Kvanvig and Ramirez were the stars of the game, each supplying a career-high four goals. Kvanvig also posted two steals on the defensive end. At the buzzer, sophomore defender Kalli Vellis (Burlingame, CA) fed a perfect pass to Waldo for an exciting finish to the win.
After two tough conference losses, Redlands jumped back in the win column with a dominating 20-5 win over Caltech at the Thompson Aquatic Center. The Bulldogs opened the game with the first nine goals, allowing them to cruise to the victory. The Beavers orchestrated back-to-back goals in the second period, but it was not enough, as Redlands kept control in the convincing win. Grosswendt impressed with 15 saves, while sophomore attacker Kelly Klish (Glenview, IL), first-year attacker Ally Feeley (Menlo Park, CA), Jenkins, and McAleer notched three goals apiece.
As the season wound down, the Maroon and Gray were in tight contention for a postseason berth. Redlands strung together a much-needed three-game win streak, bookended by a pair of wins on the road. The Bulldogs showed resilience in a come-from-behind victory on the road against Chapman to take home a 5-4 decision. Senior utility player Breanna O'Dea (Rowland Heights, CA) notched the go-ahead goal on the team's final possession of the third period, while Jenkins' uncorked the eventual game-winner in the final five minutes. With plenty of time remaining, the team stepped up its defensive effort, with Grosswendt leading the charge by tallying 13 saves and a game-high four steals. Once the Bulldogs returned home, they held Occidental College to just one goal in the second half to secure an 8-3 victory on Senior Night. Redlands came out of halftime on the attack to finish the game on a 6-1 run. The Bulldogs gained the go-ahead goal from senior
defender Carmen Gardner (South San Francisco, CA) with 6:48 remaining on the third-quarter clock. Walker turned in a high-caliber performance on defense with four steals, while Jenkins initiated much of the offense with three assists. The Maroon and Gray defense continued to shine in the next road game, holding CMS to a pair of one-goal halves, which marked the fourth time over the last three games. The offense backed up the stellar effort with nine goals, led by Jenkins with four, in the 9-2 victory.
Unfortunately, the Bulldogs dropped their final regular-season contest, which ended their chances for a spot in the postseason tournament.
For the season, Jenkins, who landed on the All-SCIAC First Team for the first time in her career, led the team with 50 goals and 15 assists for a team-high 65 points. Grosswendt also represented the Bulldogs with an All-SCIAC Second-Team appearance on 359 saves and a .571 saves percentage.
In addition, Jenkins became a First-Team All-American, while Kahahawai and Grosswendt earned Honorable Mention.
Although the loss of its seven seniors poses a significant void, the Redlands women's water polo team looks forward to building upon the success of the 2019 campaign. With hopes of continuing their upward climb, the Bulldogs bring a newfound desire to the pool as they further grow as a talented and dedicated squad.