Oct. 4, 2010

by Trevor Freeman

Special to NCAA.com

One goal. Once again two titans met and the margin between them remained the narrowest you can have in our sport. The SoCal Tournament is now in our rearview mirror, but it was a weekend of water polo worth bottling up. While we had a series of upsets on Saturday, form held on Sunday with two cross-town rivals meeting once again with a tournament title hanging in the balance.

One of the teams that had an outstanding SoCal Tournament was the fifth-ranked Anteaters of UC-Irvine. UC-Irvine defeated twelfth-ranked St. Francis, third-ranked California and sixth-ranked UC-Santa Barbara on their way to finishing third place at SoCals. The Anteaters are led by Head Coach Marc Hunt who also served as Head Coach of the United States National B” team and will be leading our National team at the 2011 World University Games in China. I caught up with Coach Hunt prior to his teams weekend of success and below is our interview.

UC-Irvine is coming off an impressive 11-5 victory over UC-Santa Barbara last Saturday. Can you tell us a little bit about what the Anteaters need to do to challenge for an MPSF title or an NCAA at-large bid?

"We need to remain focused and have great awareness on both offense and defense. We also need to execute and be a bit more consistent game in and game out."

Brandon Johnson has been an outstanding player over the past four years and is a returning All-American. Can you tell us what makes him the special player that he is?

"Brandon is a driven kid. He really likes to both absorb the game and play the game. He got great experience as he started as a freshman and got to play with a guy like Tim Hutten. Brandon learned a lot from playing with those guys on the 2007 team and is emulating them now in his senior year."

Tom Kruip is back for another season. Can you tell us about the returning All-American and what makes him so effective?

Tom is a big kid. About 6'5"-6'6", two hundred and ten pounds. He is very fast and can play any position in the pool. His twin brother Kyle Kruip is our setter and he also brings a lot of speed and size to the table. It was a bonus finding out Tom could play this season and he has really grown over the course of it. Last year, he scored most of his goals from the outside as teams dropped off of him because they did not know who he was. This year he will be guarded more closely and he will have to continue to adjust to that."

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This weekend was the highly anticipated SoCal Tournament which involved the entire top ten and most of the national top twenty. Perhaps the locale was different but the story remained the same. Once again, top-ranked USC and second-ranked UCLA met with a title on the line. In last falls NCAA championship tilt and in this seasons NorCal Tournament title game, USC was one goal better. On Sunday, USC showed that nothing has changed between the two sides as the Trojans emerged victorious over UCLA by a 9-8 count. The SoCal Tournament championship was not decided until freshman Nikola Vavic pumped home the game-winner with thirty-five seconds left. Vavic and sophomore Tobias Pruess each scored two goals while Joel Dennerley blocked fifteen shots to lead the Trojans. For UCLA, freshman Cristiano Mirarchi registered a hat trick while another frosh in James Hartshorne had ten saves.

The other story of the SoCal Tournament was the play of UC-Irvine and UC-Santa Barbara. Those two squads met for third place after each pulled off a Saturday stunner. UC-Irvine won third place at the SoCal Tournament with an 8-4 victory over the Gauchos. They were led by Mitch Wises hat trick along with nine saves from Matt Johnson. While an 8-6 semifinal loss to UCLA is what put UC-Irvine into the third-place matchup, the weekend has to be judged as a success for the Anteaters. UC-Irvine defeated third-ranked California 9-8 in their second round matchup at SoCals when Brandon Johnson ripped his fourth goal of the game with forty-four seconds left. While UCSB ended up in fourth place, they also scored a crucial victory at SoCals when they tripped up fourth-ranked Stanford 12-10 behind a hat trick from Brian Shoemaker.

Southern California was not the only place where water polo was played this weekend as there was an appetizing matchup in the Bronx between Fordham and Brown. Last season, the two squads shared the regular season championship in the CWPA Northern Division and split their postseason matchups at the Northern Division and Eastern Championships. With that as a backdrop, a nice crowd showed up at Rose Hill to watch the two rivals face off. However, the home faithful would leave disappointed as Brown defeated the Rams by a 16-8 count. Quite simply, Brown deserved to win this game as they executed better on offense, played smarter defense and won every single hustle play. Browns goaltending was superb as freshman Walter Shockley was easily the player of the game with his eleven saves. Freshman James McNamara also showed his U.S. Junior National team pedigree as he scored an easy five goals. This years freshman class in the North is very impressive as MITs Chris Cheney along with Bosko Stankovic and Igor Mladenovic of St. Francis have all had outstanding starts to their college careers.

Player of the Week

David Morton, UC-San Diego, Jr.: The Tritons quietly had an outstanding SoCal Tournament. After dropping their first-round matchup against Stanford, thirteenth-ranked UC-San Diego won three on the spin to emerge victorious in the tournaments consolation bracket. Those three wins were over seventeenth-ranked Concordia, ninth-ranked Pepperdine and then tenth-ranked Loyola Marymount. Morton was vital in all three of those wins and was especially impressive against Concordia as he recorded nineteen saves in that contest. UC-San Diegos wins over Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount were the first for the program since 2006.

Contest to Watch

UCLA will not have time to celebrate their SoCal Tournament title as they will be making their toughest road trip of the season. The Bruins have conference road tests at California on Saturday and at Pacific on Sunday. This will be their first matchup with California this season and it should be a nailbiter. Their matchup with Pacific in Stockton is a rematch of this past weekends 13-11 thriller from the second round of the SoCal Tournament.