Notebook: Champs Stunned
Sept. 21, 2009
By Trevor Freeman
It happened. After thirty-six games and an NCAA title, a team finally knocked down the champs. A day after USC’s football team was stunned in the Pacific Northwest, their hated rivals from Westwood pinned a loss on their water polo team that was just as stirring. With three seconds left, UCLA’s gritty two-meter defender Cullen Hennessy scored his second goal of the game and the biggest of his lifetime. Hennessy was not the only hero on this night as Chay Lapin submitted an impressive eleven-save performance in the net. Those performances were vital in securing UCLA great Adam Wright the biggest victory of his young coaching career.
We will get into that and more in our recap of the past week’s action. However, we begin with a special treat as I got a chance to sit down with one of the great coaches of this decade. Kirk Everist took over California in 2002 and in that time has won two NCAA titles and has produced thirty-three All-Americans. A two-time Olympian and former NCAA Player of the Year, Everist is one of the great coaches in our sport. I got a chance to sit down with him and discuss this year’s squad. Below is our interview.
Your team has had an impressive start to the season and has the look of a national title contender. What does your squad have to do in order to get back to the NCAA Final Four?
Consistency is always a must during the season. It is a grind and you have to give yourself the best opportunity every game to be successful. We can't give things away and we have to maintain our expectation to win every time we hit the water.
Spencer Warden is one of the top field players in the country. Can you tell us what makes him special?
Spencer is one of the most disruptive defensive players I have ever seen in collegiate Water Polo. His explosiveness and athleticism allow him to literally be in two places at once. Much like a great Defensive Back in Football, Spencer can take away an entire side of the pool. Players avoid throwing the ball anywhere near him.
Cory Nasoff has gotten out of the gate fast and has the look of an emerging star. Can you tell us what you are expecting out him for the rest of this campaign?
Cory had a long spring of training as he came back from hip surgery after the 2008 season. He has improved his strength and speed tremendously and it is really showing. We will expect him to be a key on defense because of his length and mobility as well as always being a threat to go coast to coast on the counter. Cory has already shown this year his ability to take over a game on the counter.
While UCLA shocking USC was the story of the NorCal Invitational, the winner was a team that has already fought through adversity this season. Stanford was the runner-up in last season’s NCAA Championships and an injury to one of their stars in Sage Wright had people wondering if they could repeat last season’s performance. Those doubts can officially be dispelled as Stanford defeated two heavyweights in succession on Sunday to win the NorCal title. The Cardinal defeated UCLA 6-5 in the Championship game with all six goals coming from Janson and Drac Wigo. In the semifinals, Stanford turned back third-ranked California 8-7 behind two goals from Drac Wigo and ten saves from Jimmie Sandman.
For the first time in what seems like an eternity, USC was in the position of having to bounce back from a loss. Like a true champion, the Trojans did not let the UCLA shocker affect their performance. USC turned back California in the NorCal Invitational third place game by an 8-6 count. What was truly impressive is that the eight goals were scored by eight different players. Prior to losing to UCLA, USC recorded wins over UC-Irvine and Pomona-Pitzer by a combined score of 24-7. Matt Sagehorn led all USC scorers with five goals over the two contests. While Cal’s Sunday was comprised of two losses, the Golden Bears defeated twelfth-ranked Santa Clara 14-9 and sixth-ranked UCSB 12-8 on Saturday. Sophomore goalie Will Toppen was the story in the Cal win over UCSB as his fifteen saves led the way.
Fifth-ranked Loyola Marymount has to be proud of their performance at the NorCal Invitational. Their only loss on the weekend was to UCLA and they defeated two tough squads in sixth-ranked UCSB and eighth-ranked UC-Irvine to garner fifth place. Andy Stevens was electric on Sunday as he recorded thirty saves over the two games including a career high eighteen in the 7-6 win over the Anteaters. Andrew Aki deserves special mention for his role in that win over UC-Irvine as he drilled the game-winner in sudden death overtime for the Lions.
Out East, the ECAC Championships took place and every contender for the CWPA Championship was in attendance. If this was a preview of how the CWPA Championships will play out in November, then a familiar face may be heading back to the Final Four. Thirteenth-ranked Navy cruised to the title over the weekend. The closest game they played had a margin of six goals and that was their title win over Princeton. In that contest, Navy blew open a tight game in the fourth quarter to win 13-7. What was impressive about Navy’s performance was that it was a complete team effort as numerous players found the box score. Co-MVPs of the tournament were goalie Brett Rajchel and lefty Johnny Meiners.
Player of the Week
Cullen Hennessy, UCLA, Soph.: Cullen Hennessy gets the nod for notching the goal that ended USC’s thirty-six game winning streak. One of the quickest players in the country, Hennessy does not get enough credit for how good he is defensively. He sees a lot of time in two-meter defense and does a very solid job in that role.
Game to Watch
Eighth-ranked UC-Irvine travels to fourth-ranked UCLA in an intriguing Saturday matchup. The Anteaters quietly returned the bulk of their squad from last season and are capable of pulling the upset. This game has both “letdown” and “trap” elements to it as UCLA is coming off an outstanding NorCal Invitational and rematches Stanford in the game following this one.