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Local Water Polo Player Owns Piece of National Championship

Santa Barbara native Kelly Easterday is a member of the UCLA team that overcame adversity for the 2009 title

In 2008, the UCLA women’s water polo team defeated the USC Trojans to claim its fourth consecutive NCAA Championship. This year, on May 10, the Bruins claimed its fifth title in similar fashion in a close battle with their crossown rivals, escaping with a 5-4 victory.

Led by senior Tanya Gandy, who scored three UCLA goals, and strong play by defender Kelly Easterday, a Santa Barbara native, the third-ranked Bruins overcame adversity and defeated a strong Trojan team. USC had only lost one game this season and was favored by many to win the tournament.

“We knew going in that the odds were against us, but the whole team truly and honestly believed that we could win,” Easterday said. The local defender has twice earned co-MVP honors in CIF play at Santa Barbara High School.

Last year, the Bruins graduated five of its six starters, which meant lower expectations for the club. But it remained focused, despite losing two players midseason and the announcement that head coach Adam Krikorian won’t return next year. Krikorian was named head coach of the Women’s National Water Polo Team on March 27.

“At times it was hard to stay focused, stay positive, and stay in the now rather than worry about the future of our program,” Easterday said. “I am proud of how our team overcame such adversity, and I truly believe that we became closer and stronger because of it.”

The final also pitted Easterday against former Santa Barbara High teammate Kami Craig, who now plays for the Trojans.

“I was always stuck with the task of guarding her in high school,” Easterday said. “I have tremendous respect for her game; after all, she won a silver medal in Beijing, and it is always a challenge to play against her.”

Easterday plans to major in geography and environmental studies and really enjoys the Los Angeles campus.

“UCLA is a great fit for me because it allows me to couple my athletic desires with my academic interests,” Easterday said. “I must compete against some of the most intelligent students every day in the classroom and the most gifted athletes every morning and afternoon in the pool.”

Next year, UCLA won’t have any seniors on its team, so the heart of the team will come from this year’s sophomore class.

“The odds of us returning to win a sixth national title are even slimmer next season,” Easterday said. “Hopefully we can once again rally as a team to make it to the NCAA tournament, and from there it’s anyone’s ball game. Any team can win it.”

On May 29, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation selected Easterday for All-MPSF honors. The criteria for this distinction include a cumulative grade-point average of 3.0 or better, participation in at least half the games played during a season and to be at least a sophomore academically.

Noozhawk intern Kenny Lindberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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