The article below originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal and is being reprinted with permission.

Freshman Gretta Musayelyan takes aim in CSM’s women’s water polo opener Wednesday. The Bulldogs (with nine freshmen on a 10-player roster) fell to powerhouse Delta 16-6. Photo by Terry Bernal.

Freshman Gretta Musayelyan takes aim in CSM’s women’s water polo opener Wednesday. The Bulldogs (with nine freshmen on a 10-player roster) fell to powerhouse Delta 16-6. Photo by Terry Bernal.

The Lady Bulldogs got a rude awakening against a state powerhouse.

College of San Mateo’s women’s water polo squad was dealt a 16-6 loss to San Joaquin Delta in Wednesday’s season opener. Host CSM was overmatched from the get-go, as Delta opened with eight consecutive goals before the Bulldogs finally got on the board midway through the second period.

Delta had CSM vastly outnumbered. The Mustangs carry 18 players on their roster to the Bulldogs’ 10; and one of CSM’s players was out of action Wednesday to knock that number down to a single digit. And while the Mustangs played two games Wednesday — first traveling to Foothill for an early afternoon 17-7 win before playing at CSM at 4:30 p.m. — they didn’t have any trouble bullying CSM around its home pool.

“It’s an eye-opener,” CSM head coach Randy Wright said. “I think there’s a lot more in it for us to be learned than being on their end.”

Wright prides himself on building teams from the ground up, and he certainly has a fixer-upper on his hands this year. CSM has just one sophomore on roster in Morgan Smith, a splendid sprinter who won gold medals with the CSM swim team last season in the 50-yard freestyle and the 200 butterfly, setting a Coast Conference record in the latter.

Otherwise, the Bulldogs are a slew of freshmen. Wright said the philosophy is akin to turning kittens into tigers.

“Kittens are nice, but they don’t do well in an aggressive sport,” Wright said.

The young CSM squad touts plenty of locals. Mercy-Burlingame graduate Vanessa Kibblewhite scored the first two goals of the season for the Bulldogs. Her first goal came on a rebound of a missed shot by Gretta Musayelyan that Kibblewhite muscled in from close range.

She followed that by opening the second half with a goal on a pass from Musayelyan, who set up the play with a gritty steal, then sent an outlet to a streaking Kibblewhite, who cut Delta’s lead to 9-2.

Kibblewhite is joined by another Mercy-Burlingame grad in Taylor Anderson. Musayelyan is one of a Burlingame tandem, along with Shelby McMillan. Alexa Tamayo is a Capuchino alumna. Olivia Cosco is out of Aragon. And Smith, the lone sophomore, is from El Camino.

“They are good team players — great role players,” Wright said. “But I’m giving them freedom to be leaders now.”

Facing Delta was a good lesson in how a properly executed aggressive attack can wreak havoc. The Mustangs came out swinging, scoring six goals in the first period. All told, more Delta players scored than CSM has players. Eleven different Mustangs converted goals, paced by Katelyn Traut’s three.

Not that having a slim roster is a death knell, but the talent has to be there, Wright said.

“It matters what kind of players you have,” Wright said. “We don’t have experience, we don’t have speed and we don’t have strength. So, it’s a very difficulty task to play with nine players.”

The Mustangs are a perennial contender in Northern California. They finished in the top six in state last year, and two years ago advanced to the Nor Cal playoffs held at CSM. Going for a swim at CSM Wednesday was a reminder of what the team is shooting for, according to Delta assistant coach Nathan Leroy.

“Northern California playoffs were held here [two years ago], so just to get used to the pool … everybody can visualize and what’s going on,” Leroy said.

For the Bulldogs, it was a relatively rare chance to compete in their home pool as well. CSM will not return home for another game until Oct. 2 in Coast Conference play against West Valley. In the interim, the Bulldogs have three tournaments lined up, starting with a jaunt to Santa Rosa Junior College next week.

CSM faced a similarly tough non-conference schedule last year. After opening with a 19-11 loss to Delta, the Bulldogs began 2014 with a 1-5 record. They turned it around by winning their last four regular-season conference games to qualify for the Coast Conference Tournament. They went 2-1 in the postseason with wins over De Anza and Merced.

Wright is poised to work similar magic this year.

“I have time, so that’s important,” Wright said. “We need (to play) these games though.”

The Coast Conference has been restructured this season. Last year, it was a seven-team conference. With Ohlone, City College of San Francisco and Las Positas adding women’s water polo programs this year, however, the Coast Conference will be split into two divisions. CSM will be in a five-team division with CCSF, De Anza, Cabrillo and West Valley.

A team will play each Coast Conference team once, regardless of division, totaling nine conference games. The difference will come in the postseason, as each division secures two playoff berths, the first-place winner and a guaranteed at-large bid.