Bucknell University Hosts Bison Invitational this Weekend to Open 2011 Campaign

Krystle Morgan
Krystle Morgan

LEWISBURG, Pa. - The Bucknell University women's water polo team is scheduled to play a record 12 games inside beautiful Kinney Natatorium this year and the Bison will waste no time getting to the home portion of their schedule as the host the six-team Bison Invitational this weekend.

Bucknell will play four games in a 42-hour span beginning with Friday's 6 p.m. season opener against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. The Bison will also face league foe Gannon University, Wagner College and Siena College during the three-day invitational that will feature 12 total contests Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Colleges is the only one of the six squads that will be in action at the Bison Invitational that has played a game this year. The Athenas enter the weekend with a 2-2 record.

Bucknell's Bison Invitational Schedule

FRIDAY, Feb. 11
Game 1 -- Bucknell vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 6 p.m.
Game 2 -- Mercyhurst vs. Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 8 p.m.

Game 3 -- Mercyhurst vs. Wagner, 9 a.m.
Game 4 -- Claremont-Mudd-Scripss vs. Siena, 10:30 a.m.
Game 5 -- Bucknell vs. Gannon, 12 p.m.
Game 6 -- Mercyhurst vs. Siena, 3 p.m.
Game 7 -- Claremont-Mudd-Scripps vs. Gannon, 4:30 p.m.
Game 8 -- Bucknell vs. Wagner, 6 p.m.

SUNDAY, Feb. 13
Game 9 -- Gannon vs. Siena, 9 a.m.
Game 10 -- Claremont-Mudd-Scripps vs. Wagner, 10:30 a.m.
Game 11 -- Bucknell vs. Siena, 12 p.m. Game 12 -- Gannon vs. Wagner, 1:30 p.m.

Below is a more detailed season outlook heading into the 2011 campaign:
Bucknell, in 2010, won five of its final six games and claimed its first-ever Southern Championships crown. The Bison finished 17-10 overall and 5-1 in league play, tying rival Princeton for the regular-season league title. While Bucknell would like to duplicate that feat this spring, it will not be possible as the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) has realigned divisions and the Bison are now in the Western Division with perennial national powers Hartwick, Indiana and Michigan, as well as Gannon and Mercyhurst.

The Southern Championships no longer exist and Bucknell's main focus now will be on winning the competitive 12-team Eastern Championship and earning the program's first-ever berth to the NCAA Championships.

The newly aligned divisions are not the only thing different around Kinney Natatorium this year. Interim head coach Paul Rave, who spent the previous two-and-one-half years as an assistant with both the Bison women's and men's programs, took over as frontman when former head coach John Abdou departed for his native California in December. Sadie Abuhoff, a 2007 graduate of Bucknell and a four-year member of the women's water polo squad, is new to the coaching staff.

Rave has high expectations for the Bison, who have seven freshmen joining a team that appeared in the national rankings late last spring.

"Top to bottom this is one of our deepest teams since I have been here," commented Rave, who served a stint as an interim head coach at his alma mater, UC Santa Barbara, in 2008. "We have a lot of good athletes and a few are poised to stand out. One of my philosophies is that a player should be able to play every position and we have a lot of people that can play all over the pool. The amount of potential we have in terms of the number of athletes and how versatile they are is one of our biggest strengths."

Among the most important players to the success of the Bison in 2011 is senior co-captain Kandis Canonica, who already owns the program record for assists (176). An Honorable Mention All-America last year, Canonica is coming off a season where she led the team in assists (51) and points (100) and was second on the squad with 49 goals. She is the only player in program history to post three consecutive 100-point campaigns.

A three-time All-CWPA Southern Division selection, including a first-team honor last season, Kanonica enters her final year third on Bucknell's career points list (335), sixth in goals (159) and first in assists (176).

"Kandis has been outstanding since she got here and this year doesn't look to be any different," said Rave, who has helped the Bison to 35 victories over the last two campaigns. "She'll continue to improve all aspects of her game. One item that does stand out is her leadership. She's always been a person who does her role and does it well, but she is getting to a point where she recognizes others' roles and does what it takes to facilitate for the team, as a leader should."

Fellow senior and co-captain Meghan McNally should see an increased role in her final year in Orange and Blue. A veteran of 80 career games and 24 starts, McNally registered career highs in goals (8), assists (8) and points (16) as a junior. Her playing time and production has increased every year and Rave expects more of the same.

"She's had a great start so far," mentioned Rave. "She is from New York and had a slower transition to college water polo. She's had her best preseason and everything seems to be clicking."

The final of Bucknell's three seniors is Haley Prickett. Prickett battled injuries last year, but her shoulder issues seem to be behind her heading into 2011. Despite playing reduced minutes last year, she registered 17 goals, 16 assists and 23 ejections drawn, bringing her career numbers to 83 goals, 66 assists and 89 ejections drawn.

"Haley is one of our most experienced players. She has game sense that is going to be a big help for us," said Rave. "Haley's role has changed over the years from being a starter who scores a lot of goals to being a more of a key reserve who does a lot of the little things to help a team win."

Junior Hallie Kennan should once again team with Canonica to give the Bison a potent scoring punch. The left-hander had a breakout year as a sophomore, posting a team-high 58 goals and finishing second on the team to Canonica with 80 points.

The Second Team All-CWPA Southern Division selection started just 11 games but still tallied at least one goal in 23 of 27 contests.

"Hallie is a little bit of a mystery heading into the season because she was abroad in the fall," explained Rave. "She has grown more comfortable in her role. She's not surprised anymore when she scores, like she was at the beginning of last year. Everything is more natural and comfortable for her and we look for that to translate into better decision making and more confidence overall."

Classmate Amanda Skonezney is also an experienced veteran, having started all but one game over the last two campaigns. The team's top sprinter, Skonezney claimed 39 sprints last year and has won 116 in her two years as a Bison.

Skonezney increased her offensive production last year, totaling 46 points in 27 games, compared to 40 in 35 contests as a freshman. She was also one of just two players to be a member of the starting unit every time.

"I see Amanda's role to be pretty similar to what it has been in the past," predicted Rave. "However, we do have a few freshmen swimming right with her. She used to be a standout at her speed, but not anymore, and she's not slowing down. Hopefully we'll be able to give her a break when she needs one."

Rounding out the seven-person junior class are Becca Shopiro, goalkeeper Brittany Connell, Ariel Frankeny and Dalia Varela. Frankeny and Varela have combined to appear in one career game, while Shopiro and Connell are looking to grow into larger roles.

Shopiro saw action in 24 contests last year, starting eight. She is a veteran of 54 career games and has totaled 12 points, 21 steals and seven ejections drawn.

Based on her experience, Connell enters the season as the starting goalie, although Rave enjoys having competition at the goalkeeper position and will likely award freshman Rena Heim some playing time. Connell made 20 saves and posted a .714 save percentage as a backup to all-league performer Alison Carter last year, following a freshman campaign that saw her stop better than 50 percent of the shots she faced.

"Brittany is definitely the leader in terms of experience, coming from California and her time playing here," said Rave, who has personally coached the goalies since arriving at Bucknell. "She has spent a lot of time here and is probably hungrier because she has been behind Carter the last two years. Brittany and Rena (Heim) have a great relationship and work well together. I see it as an opportunity where they can battle to win the spot."

The three-person Bison sophomore class of Shannon Carroll, Krystle Morgan and Tara Murao saw plenty of playing time last year as each member appeared in all 27 games and the trio combined for 17 starts. However, they were able to ease into the veteran lineup. This year Rave expects each to step into larger roles.

Morgan was the most productive of the group offensively, netting 20 goals to rank sixth on the team, while Murao was named the team's Rookie of the Year after scoring 11 goals and drawing 34 ejections. Carroll contributed 10 points and eight steals.

The aforementioned Heim has six classmates that are also joining the squad this year and Rave was impressed by them in preseason workouts. The freshman class of Samantha Deana, Mackenzie Ferry, Sarah Frank, Stephanie Ovalle, Heather Smith, Julianne Valdes and Heim hail from five states and features three Pennsylvanians.

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