Craig comes home, helps SBAC U18s to bronze medal

Olympic silver medalist and World Cup champion Kami Craig returned to her roots and helped the Santa Barbara Aquatics Club 18U water polo team take the bronze medal at the Top 40 Tournament.

The tournament featured the top female water polo players in the nation, including the entire U.S. women’s world championship team playing for club teams.

Santa Barbara lost to the top-seeded New York Athletic Club, 13-6, in the semifinals but rebounded with an 11-3 win over Huntington Beach in the bronze-medal game. The New York team featured Craig’s 2008 Olympic teammates and current members of the U.S. national team.

Santa Barbara’s roster included Chloe Brooks (goalie), Charlotte Hendrix, Brittny Hummel, Tiera Schroeder, Kodi Hill, Jamie Neushul, Makenzy Fowler, Kiley Neushul, Kelsey O’Brien, Monique Dorado, and Jillian Staph (goalie). Staph is a member of Team USA and a recent graduate of Cal State Northridge, where she was an All-American in goal.

SBAC coach Cathy Neushul said her players were thrilled to play with Craig, a Santa Barbara High grad and the most accomplished women’s player in SBAC club history.

“Playing with Kami was a wonderful experience for the girls,” Neushul said. “ She is a fabulous athlete and a wonderful person. Kami leads by example and showed our girls the level of intensity it takes to win internationally. We really appreciate Kami coming back to her Santa Barbara roots and hope she will make this an annual event.”

Neushul noted that Santa Barbara All-Americans Molly Cahill and Miranda Nichols came out this summer and helped lead the SBAC team at the Women’s Open Nationals. “We have some great alumni,” she said.

Craig’s had a busy year. She led USC to the 2010 NCAA Division I National Championship and team USA to gold medals in the FINA World League and FINA World Cup. She received the 2010 Cutino Award as the top collegiate player in the U.S. and was also named as the best center forward in the world at the 2010 World Cup in Christchurch, New Zealand.

She said it was exciting to come back and play with her hometown club team for the first time in five years — she led the club to an 18U national championship during her junior year in high school.

“I felt like one of the girls, 16 again; hustling and having a fun time with them,” she said.

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