UCLA, USC, Stanford, Michigan and Marist. Those are the only five squads to have made the past three NCAA Tournaments. When looking at the exclusive list, there is one school that quickly causes the casual water polo fan to do a double-take and I am not talking about any of the first three. That the Red Foxes from Poughkeepsie are one of only five programs to have that distinction on their resume is a feat that should not go unrecognized.
Marist’s leader is Ashleigh Huckins and she enters her fourth season having experienced an incredible amount of success. In 2008, she led the Red Foxes to a program-record twenty-seven victories and their first of three straight NCAA appearances. In 2009, her Marist squad won their first-ever NCAA tournament game and in 2010 she hit the trifecta in both MAAC titles and NCAA bids. A 2004 graduate of Hartwick, Huckins won Northern Division Player of the Year and led her squad to a fourth place finish at NCAAs. I sat down with Coach Huckins earlier this week to discuss Marist water polo and below is our interview.
Marist has qualified for three straight NCAA Championships by virtue of winning three straight MAAC titles. What do the Red Foxes need to do to make it four in a row?
Build chemistry and start playing games. We replaced key roles with newcomers and returning athletes are filling vital roles they have not had in previous years. We understand it will be a great challenge to repeat the success we achieved last year, and for now we are just taking it a practice at a time.
Rosie Pauli is one of you top returners as she scored twenty-eight goals last season. Can you tell us what makes her the effective player that she is?
Her confidence and shooting abilities make her a great threat from the outside and a good leader. Her roles have expanded this year and she has proven to be more versatile than she had understood possible, and she has worked very hard to improve her endurance which will be needed as the season progresses. She has a great eye for the pool and finding her teammates and taking advantage of the other team's mistakes.
Agnes Konopka is another returning contributor for your team. Can you tell us what makes her the top-notch player that she is?
Her attitude of putting the team above herself and work ethic are contagious. It was very apparent through our fall training that she took summer very seriously and will be a huge contributor to the offense this Spring. She plays without fear, has expanded her repertoire, and is somebody that I am looking forward to watching put forth the best year in her career.
Your team has brought in a large recruiting class. Can you tell us about your newcomers and which ones might make an immediate impact?
Our freshman goalie will make an immediate impact, as we have not played a game yet there are no stats to report. She will have big shoes to fill from our previous two goalies in my tenure here, but I have confidence that she can do a great job once we get back to conditioning. Our transfer, Jackie Puccino has shown growth in establishing a utility position and on counter attacks. Lastly, two of our freshmen Kirsten Siegel and Yuri Chavez have displayed great tools that will be important in our success as a program. The newcomers as a whole have displayed growth and I look forward to new players emerging early on in our competition schedule.
In looking at your roster, you have done an excellent job of selling kids from California on coming East to Poughkeepsie, New York. Can you tell us a little about the Marist pitch and why kids who may be reading this article should consider the Red Foxes?
The school has great academics across a diverse range of professions and is very supportive of athletics. With 5,000 undergrads and twenty-three Division I sports teams, the professors are used to working with student-athletes and thus there is a cohesive dynamic. Marist combines a great opportunity to play water polo at the Division I level, experience a wonderful part of the U.S. culture, travel the East Coast on a charter bus while getting a phenomenal education. In all honesty, the success of the school and the program sell it itself.
With that our interview ended. Perhaps the Red Foxes are integrating nine new players into the roster; however they are a well-coached team that has enough veterans back with winning experience. That a school located in Poughkeepsie, New York has had this run of success is a great story. Maybe some of their stars are gone, but it would not surprise me if another NCAA chapter is written.