Sept. 28, 2009

 

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com

It was a weekend that consisted of one-goal thrillers, upsets and standing room only crowds.  The games are heating up as conference play has arrived.  While the top teams flexed their muscles, parity has struck the sport of water polo and that is evidenced by tight contests between the middle-class all across the nation.  We will get into that and more in this week’s column; however we first begin by interviewing the captain of water polo’s top-ranked ship. 

John Vargas replaced the legendary Dante Dettamanti in 2002 and has continued Stanford’s tradition of success.  He has coached the Cardinal to one NCAA Championship and has his team ready to vie for another.  As a player, Vargas was an All-American at UC-Irvine and a United States Olympian. I caught up with Stanford’s head man to discuss his squad and below is our interview.

Your team has shown tremendous character in getting off to a fast start despite star Sage Wright being out for the season. Can you tell us a little about your team's response to this adversity and how Sage is doing?
 
Sage injured his knee in June.  We've been playing without him all summer. He is still very important to our team and he is well on his way to recovering and being ready for next year.
 
Jimmie Sandman is one of the top goalies in the country. Can you tell us a little about what makes him so effective?
 
Jimmie is a student of the game.  He works hard to improve all aspects of his game, both mentally and physically.
 
Janson and Drac Wigo are both incredible players. What makes them as great as they are?
 
Drac and Janson were exposed to water polo at a very young age. Bruce (dad) and Wolf (brother) have done a great job at developing their skills and teaching them the game.  What has impressed me from day one is their willingness to work and continue to develop mentally and physically.
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Our look at the national landscape begins at Rose Hill as Fordham took on Brown in a matchup of CWPA Northern Division favorites.  In front of an energetic crowd, Brown prevailed 11-9 behind some timely goalkeeping from Kent Holland and a strong game out of Gordon Hood who notched five goals.  While the Rams were defeated, Fordham left goals in the water and that should give them something to build on for when they see Brown in the postseason.  First off, Fordham missed two five-meter penalty shots in the third quarter.  I know Alex Powell is out for the season, but the Rams needed to convert at least one from the spot.  Secondly, Fordham generated plenty of opportunities in this game.  If these two teams rematch in the Northern Division Finals, Fordham should go into the contest confident that Ali Arat and Mikey Edwards can do some work in two-meter.  Finally, Fordham was victimized by a very tough call that could have gone either way in the final two minutes of the game.  Down 10-9, Andrew McKernin broke open on a drive and pumped home the game-tying goal.  However, one of the two officials signaled McKernin for a push-off which negated the strike.  All in all, Fordham and Brown looked evenly matched which will make the CWPA Northern Division Championships must-see water polo. 

In other news from the East Coast, Bucknell scored two important conference victories as they defeated seventeenth-ranked Princeton along with George Washington.  The 10-9 win over Princeton came on a Paul Reamey goal with 1:09 left.  Nick Donahue had an impressive twelve saves in front of the standing room only crowd.  Against George Washington, the Bison won 14-7 with Daniel Schwartz’s three goals leading the way. 

Four of the top five ranked teams in the country were in action and they all cruised.  Second-ranked UCLA opened Spieker Aquatics Center in style as they defeated seventh-ranked UC-Irvine 10-4.  The Bruins jumped out to a 6-1 lead and cruised from there.  Scott Davidson, Cullen Hennessy and Josh Samuels each had two goals in the victory.  Crosstown rival and third-ranked USC also had no problems in their only game of the week as they kept Pepperdine at arms-length the entire contest in winning 14-8.  Kyle Sterling and Justin Rappel each had three goals in the victory.

Fourth-ranked California and sixteenth-ranked Pacific had a nice duel in Stockton as the two teams played to a 5-5 tie through the first half.  However, California was able to score the only two goals of the third quarter and then pull away in the fourth to win 11-7.  Ivan Rackov notched a hat trick in the victory.  It should be noted that there was a development outside of the pool that affected Cal’s roster.  On September 23rd, the Daily Californian (Cal’s award-winning college newspaper which was established in 1871) reported that junior goalie Jacob McIntosh left the team.  McIntosh started twenty-five games as a sophomore and registered 212 saves.  He had recently lost playing time to sophomore Wil Toppen.

Fifth-ranked Loyola Marymount had two very impressive defensive outings as they held ninth-ranked Long Beach State and thirteenth-ranked UC San Diego to nine combined goals in defeating both opponents this past week.  Their victory over conference rival UC San Diego was by a 7-4 count with Max Schlegel’s hat trick leading the way.  On Saturday, Loyola Marymount defeated ninth-ranked Long Beach State 9-5.  That score makes the game look closer than it actually was as LMU scored five unanswered goals and held an 8-2 lead at one point during the contest.  Andy Stevens blocked twelve shots and Andrew Aki notched a hat trick in the Lions victory.  Long Beach State entered their contest with LMU on a high as they were only two days removed from an 8-7 win over eighth-ranked UC-Irvine.  Justin Koeppen notched the game-winner with 1:08 left.

Fifteenth-ranked UC Davis stole the show at the Bronco Invitational as they upset host and tenth-ranked Santa Clara on the tournament’s final day.  Colin Hicks drilled a power play goal to give UC Davis an 8-7 lead they would never relinquish.  This win capped off an outstanding weekend as UC Davis also defeated Whittier, Redlands and Cal Lutheran.  What is really incredible about how UC Davis is playing is that they are without two-meter Aaron Salit.  The Aggies opted to redshirt arguably the best offensive player on their campus in Salit and to win without him is impressive.

Player of the Week

Nick Donahue, Bucknell, Sr.:  Donahue registered twelve saves including one on a five-meter penalty shot to lead the Bison to an upset win over Princeton.  Bucknell will not have long to celebrate this victory as they play Princeton and Navy next weekend.   

Game to Watch

It is “Showdown Saturday” in the world of water polo as second-ranked UCLA journeys up north to face first-ranked Stanford while fourth-ranked California heads the opposite direction to meet up with third-ranked USC.  Not making the NCAA Tournament is an unacceptable result for all four teams.  Look for two highly pitched battles by four teams that know each loss can be devastating in the chase for the lone NCAA at-large bid.