This past weekend, the LMU’s women’s water polo team kicked off their season with an appearance at the Rainbow Invitational in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The tournament represents the first step to what will be a packed season for the team. Including this past weekend’s action, the Lions’ campaign kicks off with six tournaments on the road. The first two months of the season will be spent traveling across Southern California competing on the road. LMU will not play its first home game until March 20, when the Lions host a tournament of their own.
The women enter the season ranked No. 12 in the nation as polled by the Collegiate Water Polo Association. Although the team is ranked highly, their schedule will not be easy as they compete in a stacked Golden Coast Conference (GCC).
Of the eight teams in the GCC, five of them are ranked within the nation’s top 25, according to the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s preseason poll. The University of the Pacific tops out this bunch, coming into the season as the country’s No. 9 program. Following them is LMU at No. 12 and Fresno State University at No. 14. Finishing this group is San Diego State University at No. 19 and Azusa Pacific University at No. 25.
The coaches’ preseason poll of the GCC mirrors the national ranking. The University of the Pacific was predicted to finish first in the conference, followed by LMU in second. The Lions received one first-place vote compared to Pacific’s seven. Fresno, San Diego, and Azusa Pacific were predicted to round out the conference’s top five.
The biggest hurdle standing in the way of a Lion conference championship will certainly be the Tigers of the Pacific. LMU has lost conference title games to its Northern California rival for the past two seasons. Last year’s GCC title game in Fresno came down to a matchup between the two quality programs. The Tigers held a lead for the majority of the match as LMU struggled to assert themselves over their opponent. If this year plays out as expected, the two will meet once again to play for their conference’s title.
Heading into this season, the Lions will be without two of their star players from last season. All-American Hana Vilanova and honorable mention Morgan Malloy graduated following last season. The decorated pair combined to score 122 goals last season. Last year’s senior goalkeeper Sky Flores will be another significant loss to the squad. Flores was a consistent starter in goal in 2019 and her heroics in the GCC Championship lead to a place in the competition’s all-tournament team along with Vilanova.
Despite these losses to the team, the Lions are returning one of the school’s best players to their roster — Marialena Seletopoulou. Having only played two seasons of collegiate water polo so far, Seletopoulou has already compiled quite the resume. Originally from Athens, Greece, the junior attacker transferred into LMU last year from Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pennsylvania.
In her only year at Saint Francis, Seletopoulou scored 110 goals and became the school’s first ever women’s water polo All-American. Seletopoulou’s first season on the Bluff followed suit. The attacker scored 79 goals, the highest figure of any player in the GCC. Her impressive run of performances earned an All-American honorable mention and the GCC Newcomer of the Year award.
This year, the Lions will rely on Seletopoulou to replicate her success of last season and lead their line of attack.
The team will resume action with a tournament at Cal Baptist University this weekend, playing both Pomona-Pitzer College and Chapman University on Saturday, Jan. 25.