Women's Water Polo preview: SCIAC Championships

LA VERNE, Calif. — The University of La Verne is set to host the 2017 SCIAC Women's Water Polo Championship on April 21-23 at Las Flores Park and the Leopards will take on Chapman in a first round match on Friday at 12:30 p.m.

La Verne beat Chapman 14-10 on March 25 in their lone matchup of the season. The winner of the game between La Verne and Chapman will face the winner of the Pomona-Pitzer versus Redlands matchup in a semifinal on Saturday.

2017 SCIAC Women's Water Polo Championships Central

All games of the SCIAC Women's Water Polo Championships will be broadcast through the SCIAC portal. The streams will be free of charge.

Coming off the best season in program history, the Leopards turned in another stellar season in 2017. The Leopards went 12-9 overall, including wins over upper-division opponents Azusa Pacific (twice) and Cal State Monterey Bay. La Verne went 6-2 in SCIAC play for the second year in a row, putting themselves in position to claim the championship. The Leopards suffered narrow losses against Pomona-Pitzer (5-4) and Whittier (9-6), the two teams to which they fell last year.

The Leopards find themselves looking at an identical path to the SCIAC championship as they did last year. La Verne sits in third place heading into the championships with six dual points. The Leopards need to make up at least two points against Whittier (8-0) and one point against Pomona-Pitzer (7-1). With how the three teams have dominated the SCIAC this season, the clearest scenario for the Leopards to win the conference title—and a berth to the NCAA Tournament—is to win the SCIAC tournament. That would give La Verne 16 total points and while Whittier may also end up with the same amount of points, the Leopards will take the NCAA bid by virtue of winning the SCIAC tournament. The Leopards made it to the championship match in 2016 after beating the Sagehens in the semifinal but fell just short.

The Leopards boast four of the top seven scorers in the SCIAC. Senior Stephanie Rosero is tied for the league lead with 18 goals in SCIAC play. Junior Jasmine Bustamante, sophomore Guarina Garcia and senior Megan Little are tied for fourth with 16 tallies apiece. Rosero has 51 goals overall and Garcia has 41. Ardelle Aquino ranks second in the SCIAC with 14 assists.

La Verne under interim co-head coaches Mason Cox and Erika Vargas hasn't skipped a beat. The duo has kept the Leopards squarely within SCIAC contention despite the team having a larger target on its back after the breakout 2016 season and looks to push the team over the hump. Cox and Vargas were a part of the 2016 SCIAC Coaching Staff of the Year