Season Preview: A Look At The MPSF
By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com
California is the cradle of water polo in this country so it should come as no surprise that it serves as the home of the dominant water polo conference. When the first national polls are released, at least eight of the top ten teams in the country will be from the MPSF. Leading the pack will be a team that is challenging history. Last year, USC went 29-0 in winning the NCAA title. What began as a season for the ages could continue as an incredible streak. For this is a team that returns a core group that can only be described as special. J.W. Krumpholz, Matt Sagehorn, Shea Buckner, Justin Rappel and Joel Dennerley are all back to defend their crown. All five were All-Americans with Krumpholz being the NCAA Player the Year. Krumpholz, Sagehorn and Buckner also traveled with the United States National team this summer as Krumpholz competed in the FINA World Championships while Buckner and Sagehorn participated in the World University Games.
As good as USC is looking this year, the MPSF is always dripping with quality and this year is no exception as a number of teams are returning top-tier talent. Their crosstown rival is one of those squads. While UCLA is breaking in a new coach, do not expect them to miss a beat as that new coach has been a winner everywhere he has gone. Adam Wright has competed in two Olympic Games and won a silver medal in 2008 for Team USA. As a collegian, he won back to back NCAA Championships for UCLA in 1999 and 2000. I caught up with one of the greatest passers the United States has ever produced to discuss this year’s Bruin squad and below is our interview.
Last season, UCLA went with a lot of younger guys as Cullen Hennessy, Ben Hohl, Jacob Murphy, Matt Preciado and the Jorth Brothers were all underclassmen. What are you expecting from that group this fall?
That group got a lot of experience last season and it was a good year to get that. Ben Hohl in particular had some big games. Experience will only help and those guys are veterans now. We are looking forward to seeing how they perform.
Your recruiting class has been touted by many as being the best in the nation. Can you tell us a little about them?
We have a large class coming in as nineteen players will be arriving. We feel it is one of the best in the nation. Three of those guys, Josh Samuels, Griffin White and Chris Wendt are in Europe competing in the Jr. Worlds. This is an exciting time as this class should be the foundation of future UCLA squads.
Even with those returners and your stellar recruiting class, Chay Lapin feels like he is the most critical part of your success. I know he's battled injuries. What are you expecting out of Chay Lapin this fall?
I have coached Chay since high school. He's trained with the National team and I feel he can be the dominant goalie in the country. Chay is injury free so that will not be an issue. I don't want to put pressure on him but we are expecting a lot out of Chay. We have some good depth at the goalie position as Matt Rapacz and Andrew Messesan will put some pressure on him.
The “Big Splash” is the premier water polo rivalry and both Stanford and California return squads that will stand as roadblocks for the Trojans. Stanford is led by All-American goalie Jimmie Sandman who is coming off of a summer where he competed for the United States in the World University Games. Stanford also returns three incredible offensive talents in All-Americans Sage Wright, Janson Wigo and Drac Wigo. Wright is an outstanding perimeter player who is also lethal on the counterattack. Janson Wigo is the best left-handed outside shooter in the nation while his twin brother Drac Wigo is an incredible shooter who has tremendous versatility. California will be back with a vengeance this season as they fielded a young squad last year. Leading Kirk Everist’s attack will be All-Americans Spencer Warden and Brian Dudley. Warden in particular is an incredible talent that can do a little bit of everything as evidenced by a stat line that included forty goals, twenty-nine assists and sixty-eight steals last season.
While “the Big Four” may garner the most attention, there are other MPSF squads with Final Four aspirations. One of those teams has to be Wolf Wigo's UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos as they are primed to have a big season. Leading the Gaucho attack is All-American Milos Golic who is a lethal scorer. He was able to score eighty-two times last season despite constantly being the opposition’s focus. Juniors Sean Castillo and Stefan Partelow along with redshirt sophomore Noah Smith are also back to bolster an underrated attack. The key for UCSB will be their goalie play. Junior Fraser Bunn started thirteen games for the Gauchos last season with one of those being a ten save masterpiece in a 5-4 upset win over Stanford. However, watch out for incoming freshman Jay Lovero. Lovero was the centerpiece of an outstanding recruiting class as he was a first-team high school All-American at Foothill (CA.).
UC-Irvine is a real sleeper in the MPSF as they return their top five scorers and starting goalkeeper. One of those top five scorers is junior All-American Brandon Johnson. Johnson is a devastating shooter whose overall game made a tremendous leap between his freshman and sophomore campaigns. Greg Enloe, Thomas Kruip, Griffin Lerman and James Frank all scored at least twenty goals and will be back to give the Anteater offense an array of options. Goalie Matt Johnson is the twin brother of Brandon Johnson and is coming off a season in which he started all twenty-three games and posted 198 saves.
Pepperdine fought their way into the MPSF Championship game and might have been the second best team in the country at the end of the season. While the Waves lose two vital pieces from that squad in Adam Hewko and Grant Miller, they return All-American J.P. MacDonell. MacDonell spent the spring and summer with United States National team, competed in the World University Games and is primed to have a big year. For Pepperdine to have a season like last year, they will need players to step up both in the field and the cage.
While Long Beach State finished eighth in last season’s MPSF Tournament and Pacific did not qualify, I fully expect both teams to be stronger this fall. The 49ers are loaded for the upcoming season as they bring back 6-foot-8 two-meter player Jeff Greenwood and All-MPSF goalie Derek Wiebe-Bailey. Keep an eye on Serbian sophomore Aleksander Petrovic as international players generally take a year to adjust to the NCAA game. Pacific is feeling optimistic as James Graham brought in an incredible twelve-player recruiting class that was one of the three best in the nation. Do not forget as well that their two best recruits from last season redshirted in juco All-Americans Lance Morrison and Joey Gullikson.