Santa Barbara made big waves on All-America teams announced recently by the NCAA, with seven local women earning selection from the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches.
“Water polo is such a special sport,” UCSB coach Serela Kay said, “and it’s a really big sport in Santa Barbara.”
UCLA’s Abbi Hill, a freshman from Dos Pueblos High, led the way with a first-team selection on the NCAA Division 1 squad while UCSB senior Sarah Snyder was a second-team choice.
Four other local athletes received All-America honorable mention: UCSB senior goalkeeper Kenzi Snyder, UC Irvine sophomore Piper Smith from San Marcos High, Irvine junior Toni Shackelford from DP, and UC San Diego senior Jessee Ransone from Santa Barbara High.
Smith was the second-leading scorer for the fifth-ranked Anteaters with 29 goals while Shackelford added 27. Ransone, a team captain for No. 10 UC San Diego, scored 15 goals with 11 assists.
Another DP alum, Sonoma State senior Jordan Williams, made the Division 2 second team while scoring 25 goals. Sonoma recently dropped women’s water polo as well as both men’s and women’s tennis because of budget cuts caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hill made a major impact at UCLA during her rookie year even though the coronavirus cut that season short. She scored a team-high 41 goals and added 16 assists for the second-ranked Bruins, leading them to a 19-2 record by the time the season was abruptly ended.
Versatility is what made Hill “one of the top young players in the country,” UCLA coach Adam Wright said.
“She has the potential to impact this program in so many different ways,” he said. “One of the exciting things for her is that we can play her at multiple positions, and she can play any position at an elite level.”
Hill was the only player in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation to rank in the top eight in goals, assists, and steals (25), but she preferred to highlight the Bruins’ win-loss record of 19-2.
“We really emphasize on the team that it is not about one individual’s accomplishments or impact on the game,” she said.
Although the two UCSB Snyders on the All-America team aren’t related, they did combine efforts to hand UCLA one of its only two defeats this season, 9-8, on Jan. 17.
Sarah Snyder scored four goals in that match and had 47 by the time the season was cut short. That gave her to 197 for her career, just 16 short of the school record set by Kelley Tiffany in 2002.
“Sarah replaced Lauren Martin, who was our starting center and leading scorer when we won the Big West in 2016,” coach Kay said. “Sarah had big shoes to fill and she certainly did that.
“You see players out there who are really crafty and all that, but Sarah is a finisher. She really sees the back of the net and knows how to put the ball away.”
Kenzi Snyder had 85 saves in goal for UCSB, beginning with the nine she registered in the UCLA win. They included several clutch saves in the fourth quarter.
“When Kenzi is hot, watch out — she’s a real gamer,” Kay said. “She’s really smart and understands shooters and how to read their body positioning.”
The Gauchos were 12-8 and ranked No. 8 in the country when their season was cut short. Kenzi Snyder had 682 career saves and needed just 19 more to catch Mackenzie Brokaw for second place all-time.
“Kenzi, like Sarah, had big shoes to fill — Mackenzie Brokaw graduated off that 2016 team,” Kay said. “We had four seniors at that time and Kenzi stepped in that next season and did a great job as our starting keeper.”
The Gauchos had opened Big West Conference play on March 7 with a 9-8 win over Cal State Northridge, with Sarah Snyder scoring the game-winner in overtime. Seven games still remained on their schedule, not including the Big West Tournament in Hawaii, when the season came to an abrupt halt.
“I realize that the world is a different place right now,” Kay said, “but I also know that we’re going to bind together and be stronger in spite of this.”