Sept. 27, 2010

by Trevor Freeman

Special to NCAA.com

Water Polo season is heating up and the temperature will only rise next weekend when many of the top teams in the country descend on UCLA for the SoCal Tournament. Last weeks action was once again outstanding as we saw a number of matchups between ranked teams and even had a shocking upset as the nations twelfth-ranked team fell to unranked opposition. We will get into that and more in this weeks column; however we begin with a treat.
This past week, I had a chance to sit down with one of the great water polo players in United States history. Wolf Wigo is a name that needs no introduction in the water polo community as he is a three-time Olympian (1996, 2000 and 2004) who also helped America win gold at the 1997 FINA World Championships. Wigo is currently in his sixth season as Head Coach of the fifth-ranked UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos. Below is our interview.

UCSB finished a strong fifth-place at the NorCal Invitational. What do your Gauchos have to do to build on this and challenge for an MPSF title or an NCAA at-large bid?

Our goal was to win the tournament. Maybe third place or fifth place is the next best thing as you only want one loss as any loss hurts when trying for that second NCAA bid. We played acceptable. Not great. We didn't have a game where our shooters couldn't miss or our goalies were blocking everything. Hopefully we can build off of this and shoot for SoCals.”


Milos Golic might be the best field player in the country. Can you tell us what makes him the great player that he is?

Milos has a tremendous knack for putting the ball in the goal. He is very good at driving his legs and getting off a powerful shot. He can shoot effectively on the counter, six on five and anywhere on the perimeter which is rare. Milos can find the goal and we will definitely miss him after this year.”

Zsombor Vincze is an outstanding complement to Milos Golic. Can you tell us what makes him so effective?

Zsombor is a little more dangerous as a post-up player. They complement each other well on the six on five as we put them on opposite sides of the pool which creates a problem for defenses. It gives us great balance on our six on five. We have a good lefty and other players capable at playing at all positions on the six on five which is the first time we have had that since I have been the coach. Zsombor is a player that all teams have to respect. We are going to miss him as well after this season.”

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On the heels of their NorCal Tournament title last weekend, USC faced three foes on Friday and Saturday and rolled to victories over all three. On Friday, USC defeated Fresno Pacific 21-4 and thirteenth-ranked Cal Baptist 11-7. The result against Cal Baptist was deceiving as it was not nearly as close as the score would indicate. USC was up 11-3 heading into the fourth quarter where they were outscored 4-0. On Saturday, USC opened up MPSF Conference play against ninth-ranked Pepperdine and the result was never in doubt. USC jumped out to a 5-0 first quarter lead and cruised to a 13-4 victory. Michael Rosenthal and Nikola Vavic each had a hat trick in the Trojan win.

Second-ranked UCLA faced tenth-ranked Loyola Marymount in a rematch of last seasons Final Four overtime thriller. This game would not resemble that one as UCLA jumped out to a 5-1 first quarter lead to roll to a 14-6 win. Ben Hohl scored four goals while Josh Samuels had a hat trick to lead UCLAs scoring attack. Edgaras Asajavicius had an impressive five goals in LMUs losing effort. This was a nice effort for a UCLA team that is looking sharp heading into next weeks SoCal Tournament. On the other end of the pool, Loyola Marymount is a team that I expected to make a national title run and I do think the team you see right now will be much improved by the end of November.

Perhaps the most entertaining half of water polo was played in Davis this weekend as the eleventh-ranked Aggies put a scare into third-ranked California. Cal and UC-Davis engaged in a high-scoring first half which saw the game tied 7-7 at halftime. However, Cal was able to avoid the upset with an outstanding defensive effort over the final two quarters and pulled out a 13-8 win. Zach Whites five goals led the way for the Golden Bears.

Next week, twelfth-ranked St. Francis will take its first trip out West. I say first because it would not shock me if they make a second trip out West for the NCAA Final Four. The Terriers moved to 12-0 on the season as they swept through Iona, Connecticut College and nineteenth-ranked Brown over the weekend. The Brown result was the most impressive as St. Francis beat their Northern Division rival 14-9 behind a hat trick from Bosko Stankovic. This trip out West is a big one for St. Francis as they quietly have a chance to create an argument to be the third overall seed at the NCAA Final Four (should they win the CWPA which is no given) with a strong showing. The Terriers first round game at the SoCal Tournament is against sixth-ranked UC-Irvine. That might be the most compelling game in the first round of that tournament. While the Anteaters will be favored in Southern California and are coming off impressive wins this weekend over ninth-ranked Long Beach State and UCSB, the little school from Brooklyn is a lively underdog. The big key for the Terriers will be to leave Southern California with only one loss on their ledger. That can happen if St. Francis plays well.

Player of the Week
Rilesh Desai, Whittier, Sr. and Chad Evenrud, Whittier, Jr.: On Friday night, Whittier notched an incredible upset victory over twelfth-ranked Concordia and Desai and Evenrud led the way. Desai scored six goals including one with forty-six seconds left that sent this thriller into overtime. Chad Evenrud had seventeen saves including three in overtime in Whittiers 12-11 victory. Keep an eye on the Poets as they finished last season as the top-ranked Division III team in the nation. Whittier should crack the national top twenty with this victory and this is a team that could be a force at the end of the season in the WWPA Tournament. Dont forget that this team defeated Air Force last season on their way to making the WWPA Tournament semifinals.

Contest to Watch
The SoCal Tournament is this weekend and it is another chance for teams to put a large feather in their caps. The entire national top ten will be competing at UCLA on Saturday and Sunday.