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Harvard Shifts Focus From Bombings to Water Polo

Story courtesy Keith Peters, Palo Alto Online Sports

In just his third year as head coach of the Harvard women's water polo team, Ted Minnis and the Crimson will be involved in the 2013 NCAA Championships.

That's quite a step up from his days of coaching the girls' team at Castilleja, where Minnis had his squad battling for Central Coast Section Division II honors year in and out.

Now, Minnis is on the biggest stage for collegiate water polo. He's also hoping to be playing.

Harvard is the host for the national finals but the Crimson is not guaranteed a berth. Minnis and his squad has to earn that by winning the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Eastern Championships this weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich. 

The tourney winner will earn one of six automatic berths for the eight-team NCAA field. Two other teams will receive at-large berths for the tournament, set for May 10-12 at Blodgett Pool on the Harvard University campus in Cambridge, Mass.

Harvard's chances of playing for a national title in its own pool are, well, not quite as good as nationally No. 1-ranked Stanford's chances of winning a third straight crown.

"But, my girls are ready and we'll play hard like we always do," said Minnis, who recently got his 50th career win with the Harvard women (he also coaches the Harvard men). 

Minnis has something special planned for this weekend. His team members will be wearing shirts emblazoned with "Boston...4-15-13." It also will have a design of a runner's bib, in honor of those who lost their lives and suffered injuries at the horrific bombing at the Boston Marathon on April 15.

"It's just our way of being Boston strong," said Minnis, who lives in Watertown, where the surviving suspected terrorist bomber was arrested last week.

Minnis lives less than a mile from where the suspect was apprehended. He spent that day in front of TV set in his apartment in a security building, but could hear the commotion and see the police presence. He spent a lot of time returning phone calls from family, friends and his players who knew he lived in Watertown. 

"It was crazy . . . a stressful time," Minnis said. "It was the most insane thing I've every experienced in my life. Everybody was affected. Everyone knew someone at the Boston Marathon."

While the cities of Watertown, Boston and the surrounding communities are trying to return to normal, "It's a slow process, but we'll get there," Minnis said. "It's still fresh."

Wearing the T-shirts at the Eastern Championships likely will allow emotions to surface again and perhaps provide a rallying cry for Harvard.

"It will be nice," he said. "I'm excited. We'll be representing the university and Boston and the sport that we love."

Harvard will be busy competing in one of six qualifying tournaments this weekend. In addition to the CWPA in Michigan, automatic berths will be earned the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, Women's Water Polo Association, SCIAC, MAC and Big West tournaments.

One of the at-large bids likely will come from the MPSF Tournament in Berkeley, which features the nation's top five teams in Stanford, USC, Arizona State, UCLA and Cal.

The MPSF tourney will get under way Friday at Cal with No. 2 seed USC facing No. 7 CSU Bakersfield at 11 a.m., No. 3 ASU taking on No. 6 San Jose State at 12:45 p.m. and No. 4 UCLA meeting No. 5 Cal at 2:30 p.m.

Stanford, the No. 1 seed, has a first-round bye. The Cardinal (26-1) will open Saturday against the UCLA-Cal winner at 2:30 p.m. The championship match will be Sunday, also at 2:30 p.m.

Stanford's roster includes freshmen Emily Dorst from Menlo-Atherton and Skylar Dorosin of Palo Alto; San Jose State has freshman Brittany Krappe from M-A; UCLA has junior Becca Dorst from Menlo-Atherton, and USC's roster includes senior Constance Hiller from Priory.

At Santa Clara University, the WWPA will hold its championship tournament at the same time. 

Friday's opening round finds No. 1 UC San Diego against No. 8 CSU San Bernardino at 9:30 a.m., No. 4 Colorado St. against No. 5 Sonoma State at 11 a.m., No. 2 Loyola Marymount taking on No. 7 CSU East Bay at 12:30 p.m. and No. 3 Santa Clara facing No. 6 CSU Monterey Bay at 2 p.m.

Santa Clara features Gunn grads Jenny and Elizabeth Anderson, Sacred Heart Prep grads Stephanie Clements and Erin Sheridan plus Palo Alto grad June Afshar.

Clements, a senior goalie, recently received honorable mention on the All-WWPA team while Elizabeth Anderson was named to the All-Freshman team.

The WWPA championship match will be Sunday at 2 p.m.

In Ann Arbor, Indiana is the No. 1 seed while Princeton is No. 2. Harvard is the No. 6 seed and will open against No. 11 Notre Dame College. That winner will face No. 3 Hartwick later Friday evening.

Princeton, which features freshman Pippa Temple from Sacred Heart Prep and senior Laura Martinez from Castilleja, will open Friday against the winner of No. 7 George Washington and No. 10 Gannon.

Princeton is coming off a 12-4 win over Brown in the CWPA Southern Division championship match two weeks ago. The Tigers outscored three opponents, 41-10, during the tournament. 

Brown is led by senior co-captain Kat Booher from Castilleja. She scored two goals against Princeton. Brown also has sophomore goalie Evan Cranston from Castilleja and junior Malaika Drebin from Palo Alto. 

Opening the Eastern Championships will be No. 8 Bucknell and No. 9 Mercyhurst. Bucknell features senior Tara Murao from Palo Alto High. She leads the Bisons with 19 assists this season and recently went over the 100-point mark for her career. Other local players include Castilleja grads Barbara Peterson and Sayeh Bozorghadad plus Sacred Heart Prep grad Heather Smith.

In Los Angeles, Caltech will host the SCIAC Championships this weekend.

Top-seeded Claremont Mudd Scripps includes sophomore Haley Conner of Palo Alto and freshman Emily Gran from Menlo-Atherton. Second-seeded Pomona Pitzer has sophomores Sarah Westcott (Sacred Heart Prep) and Sallie Walecka (Castilleja). 

La Verne's roster includes junior Katie Lacek from Gunn while Caltech has Gunn grads Soumya Kannan and Connie Hsueh. 

At UC Ivine, the Big West Championships will be held this weekend with the winner advancing to the NCAA Championships. 

The host Anteaters have sophomore MJ O'Neill from Menlo-Atherton while UC Davis has senior Hannah Breen, also from M-A. Hawaii is the top seed.