CSUN water polo player earns All-American status

Matt Crosson

A six-foot sophomore from San Diego put CSUN women’s water polo on the map this year, earning an All-American Honorable Mention.

Alison Brookes second season in 2006 tallied 25 assists, 47 steals and a conference-leading 72 goals to earn the honor announced June 6 by the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches.

“My coach called and told me,” Brookes said. “She was really excited.”

Molly Barnes, CSUN women’s head water polo coach, said she was thrilled, but was not surprised that Brookes had been selected.

“She was at the top of the league in scoring,” Barnes said. “I knew she had gotten her name out there.”

The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, which is the most competitive conference in the country, includes national-powers Stanford, UCLA and USC.

Brookes said she was proud the association recognized CSUN among the superpowers in the league.

Brookes is the second All-American in the five-year history of the CSUN women’s water polo program.

She said she is humbled by the honor and the company.

“Almost all of the other players are Olympians,” Brookes said. “It’s a really big honor to be on this team.”

Despite her success in the college ranks as well as four impressive seasons in high school, Brookes was under-recruited.

Barnes said CSUN and San Diego State were the only two schools that showed interest.

“Other coaches are surprised with the speed in which she’s developed,” Barnes said.

Brookes ultimately chose CSUN because she said she knew she would get more playing-time.

During her first season, she led CSUN in goals and was top three in steals.

The coaching staff was another big factor in her decision.

Brookes said Barnes knows how to successfully balance being a coach and a friend.

“Molly was great at helping me make my decision,” Brookes said.

Her teammates took to Brookes immediately because of her polo skills, as well as her personality.

Graziella Caredda, senior goalie, said she quickly developed into one of the team’s leaders.

“She contributes a lot to the team,” Caredda said. “She’s a well-rounded player and person.”

Caredda said Brookes is as good defensively as she is offensively.

“She makes my job a lot easier,” she said.

Brooke’s defensive proficiency is no surprise to Barnes.

Brookes was originally recruited to be a defensive specialist. It was not until Barnes saw Brookes blistering shot that she realized she had an offensive star on her hands.

Brookes credits her hard and accurate shot to ten years of softball. Barnes said players with softball experience often excel at water polo.

“In both sports you’re trying to hit a target,” Barnes said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a mitt or a goal.”

Brookes said she played every sport she could while growing up in San Diego. She began swimming at the age of eight and discovered water polo when she was 13. When she reached high school polo was her first priority.

Her tall and slender frame was ideal for the sport.

She said she was 5 feet 10 inches by the end of her senior year in high school.

“Her height helps her a lot,” Barnes said. “But she’s not that big when it comes to water polo players at the collegiate level.”

Barnes said many teams players in MPSF are 6 feet 3 inches and taller.

She said that Brookes needs to improve her swimming if she plans to pursue polo beyond college.

“Her swim speed isn’t where it needs to be,” Barnes said. “She needs to improve if she wants to make it to the next level.”

Pursuing water polo is something Brookes is serious about.

She and teammate Heather Van Hemert participated in a tryout for the U.S. National Women’s Water Polo Team in Long Beach last season. Neither player was selected, but she said she gained valuable experience. She said she would also consider playing in a professional league in Europe.

“It’s a huge sport in Europe,” she said. “I just want to keep playing after college.”

Brookes and the Matadors will have 12 returning players from last year’s squad along with 13-14 incoming recruits next season.

Barnes is excited about the mix of veterans and young talent on her roster next season because it will add much-needed depth.

“Success isn’t going to happen overnight,” Barnes said. “But with Ali as our leader we hope to surprise some people next year.”