Aug. 20, 2010

By Trevor Freeman
Special to

In the shadow of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation sits the Western Water Polo Association.  The WWPA has long been the little brother to the giants in the MPSF.  Outside of an NCAA runner-up finish by UC-San Diego in 2000, the MPSF has had a stranglehold on the NCAA Championship game.  If there was ever a year for that dominance to be challenged, it is this one as Loyola Marymount returns the bulk of their squad from last season’s Final Four run and will enter each game they play this season with arguably the best player in the country.

That player is Loyola Marymount goalie Andy Stevens and he is coming off a summer in which he was the only current collegiate player to compete for Team USA in the FINA World League Super Finals and FINA World Cup.  The Cutino Award favorite is one of four decorated returners for Loyola Marymount as Tibor Forai, Edgaras Asajavicius and Andrew Aki are also back to bolster an LMU team that lost a 9-8 double overtime heartbreaker to UCLA in last season’s NCAA Final Four.  I caught up with Andy Stevens when he returned to the country from participating with the National team and below is our interview.

This summer you competed for the United States National Team in the FINA World League Super Finals and FINA World Cup. Can you tell us about that experience and how competing at that level is going to help you this fall at Loyola Marymount?

“Getting a chance to play against top-caliber teams like Hungary, Serbia and Spain lifted my level of play, speed and awareness. It is just a different level and it will help me as I get ready to play this fall at Loyola Marymount."

The Lions boast three outstanding shooters in Tibor Forai, Edgaras Asajavicius and Andrew Aki. Can you tell us a little bit about competing against those guys every day in practice?

“It is great. All those guys are great shooters. I can remember the first day I had practice with Andrew and I just couldn't block him.  I think it is a big advantage for all of us.”

One thing I noted about you and it is the reason why I thought you were the best goalie in the country after watching you play at the Final Four your freshman year was that the pressure of big moments does not seem to affect you. This has been borne out by your performances against Stanford and UCLA in the last two Final Fours. Can you tell us about your approach to big games?

“I have to say going back to your first question. I played against Hungary. Any team we face during the season is not going to be as good as Hungary. That keeps me calm during games and lets me play with no care in the world.  I try to stay calm and have fun, that's why you always see me laughing out there. I'm at home in big games. Going to those NCAA games and playing with the National team has given me a level of experience that allows me to not be fazed by big games.”

Here's your resume. Three-time All-American, two-time first-team All-NCAA Tournament, member of the National team, two-time WWPA Player of the Year and two-time WWPA Tournament MVP. The most important item missing off of that is an NCAA Championship. Your Lions have lost the last two years in the NCAA Final Four by a combined two goals. What do you and Loyola Marymount need to do to win an NCAA Championship?

“Every time we get to NCAAs there's always a team that has been one goal better than us. If we want to win anything this year we’re going to have to be at least three to four goals better than whoever we play.”

The two teams in the WWPA most ready to test Loyola Marymount’s chin look to be Santa Clara and UC-Davis.  The Broncos have had a strong summer and return a stellar squad that is headlined by last year’s leading scorer and All-WWPA selection Nick Poggetti.  Poggetti is a rugged 6’5”, 220 pound two-meter who set a single season record for goals in a season at Santa Clara with seventy-eight last fall.  Also back to lead the Bronco charge is the speedy James Case and junior goalie Michael Wishart who already ranks second on Santa Clara’s all-time list in saves.

UC-Davis has a tremendous squad coming back this fall.  The Aggies return two All-Conference selections, a WWPA All-Freshman team pick and two impact players that redshirted last season.  The three returning All-WWPA honorees are Carlos Martinez, Cory Lyle and Colin Hicks.  All three players are effective scorers with Martinez being a high-level defender as well.  The two players returning from a redshirt year are Aaron Salit and Walter Eggert.  Salit in particular is somebody to keep an eye on as he has the ability to dominate a game out of his two-meter sport.  With the 6’5”, 230 pound redshirt junior, UC-Davis should have a much more efficient offense as Salit will force teams into playing a drop defense which should enable the Aggie shooters to get quality looks all over the pool.

UC-San Diego and Air Force will also be competitive squads as the Tritons bring back a Division II All-American goalie in David Morton and an All-WWPA selection in John Butler.  Air Force’s attack will be spearheaded by last season’s WWPA Newcomer of the Year Cruz Smithson and their leading scorer in Bobby Geiger (who tallied an impressive seventy-seven goals on the season).  Those two players alone should give the Falcons cause for optimism.

Three Division III teams out of the SCIAC to watch in the WWPA are Whittier, Pomona-Pitzer and Redlands.  Last season, Whittier upset Air Force in the WWPA Tournament to reach the semifinal round before bowing out against UC-San Diego.  The Poets ended the season as the nation’s top-ranked Division III squad.  While they lose two incredible players from that team in goalie Casey Regehr and utility player Alex Perry, the Poets have two Division III All-Americans returning in Rilesh Desai and 6’4”, 215 pound two-meter Brandon Babot.  Pomona-Pitzer is always a stout squad and they return two Division III All-Americans in Ben Hadley and Ryan Balikian.  Hadley is somebody to keep an eye on as he is quietly one of the more underrated players in the country.  Redlands graduated an outstanding senior class, however the Bulldogs always find a way to put together a quality attack and this year should be no exception.  Keep an eye on their two-meter Miran Terzic as he is somebody who could play big for the Bulldogs.