Oct. 19, 2009

 

By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com


We have passed the midway point of the regular season and the action is heating up.  There was a pair of games involving top five teams with two longtime rivals emerging victorious and continuing their NCAA push.  Two Eastern clubs had weekends that launched them back into the chase for a conference championship.  It was another thrilling weekend at the pool and we will get into that and more in this week’s column.

One of the monster matchups of the weekend involved the fifth-ranked Waves of Pepperdine doing battle with second-ranked Stanford.  The Waves entered that game on a roll as they defeated sixth-ranked Loyola Marymount, seventh-ranked Long Beach State and ninth-ranked UC-Irvine at the recently contested SoCal Invitational.  I caught up with their Head Coach Jack Kocur prior to that game to discuss his team and their progression and below is our interview.

Your team graduated Grant Miller and Adam Hewko last year and then lost goalie John Hahn over the summer.  I know the general thought was that Pepperdine would go through a rebuilding season.  However, your team has gotten better with each game and just had a strong fifth-place finish at SoCals.  Can you tell us about how your team has progressed to being one that is now top five caliber?
 
It was the will of the players.  They weren't playing with a lot of confidence at the beginning of the season.  However, we had a decent Saturday at NorCals when we beat Pacific and played a good game against Stanford.  That showed the guys that they can play at that level.  It led to us beating UC-Irvine on Saturday at SoCals and then having a great Sunday.
 
J.P. MacDonell played in the World University Games this past summer and is one of the top field players in the nation.  Can you tell us what makes him so effective?
 
J.P. is a workhorse.  He is relentless on both offense and defense.  J.P. is most deadly when he is allowed to be creative; we do our best to give him those opportunities.  He is somebody that young players should watch as he sets a great example for how to play the game.
 
Bryce McLain had a big Sunday for your squad at SoCals as he compiled twenty-four saves in the wins over Loyola Marymount and Long Beach State.  Can you tell us a little about him?
 
Bryce was a backup the last two years and he's been waiting for that starting opportunity.  He had good games at NorCals and then played very well on Sunday.  When you have a good goalie who demands presence in the cage, it gives the rest of your defense confidence.  


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Standing room only crowd.  Friday night.  Cal.  UCLA.  Two teams with Final Four ambitions faced off in a game that had huge implications in both the MPSF title and NCAA at-large race.  With that as the backdrop, second-ranked California scored a crucial road victory over the fourth-ranked Bruins.  The third quarter determined this game.  Tied 2-2 at halftime, California scored three straight goals to open that stanza and never trailed again the rest of the contest.  This was despite the fact that they went the final 7:28 without scoring a goal.  Ivan Rackov fired in three goals while Spencer Warden chipped in two for the Golden Bears.  The loss dropped UCLA to 0-2 in MPSF play which means they officially have no margin for error left in conference play.

Fifth-ranked Pepperdine traveled up North to face third-ranked Stanford in the weekend’s other clash of the titans.  The Waves arrived with upset intentions, however Stanford snuffed out those ambitions quickly.  The Cardinal jumped out to a 6-1 first quarter lead and cruised from there to a 13-5 victory.  Jacob Smith scored four goals while Travis Noll and Janson Wigo each chipped in a hat trick to lead the Cardinal.  

Top-ranked USC was in action against seventh-ranked Long Beach State on Saturday and the Trojans improved to 17-1 overall and 4-0 in MPSF play with a 9-4 victory.  The Trojans never trailed in holding off the pesky 49ers.  Shea Buckner’s three goals and Joel Dennerley’s twelve saves led the way for USC.  Derek Wiebe-Bailey did his best to keep it close for Long Beach State as he blocked thirteen shots in the loss.  The defeat to USC represented the end of what was a tough week for the 49ers as they also lost to ninth-ranked UC-Irvine in double overtime on Thursday night.  The Anteaters won that critical MPSF matchup on a Brandon Johnson goal with 1:05 left in the second overtime stanza.  Johnson led all scorers in that matchup with three goals.   

Out East, thirteenth-ranked Navy had a big weekend as they defeated fifteenth-ranked Air Force, seventeenth-ranked Princeton and eighteenth-ranked Bucknell.  The latter two victories mean Navy has a chance to tie with Bucknell and Princeton for the CWPA South regular season crown.  Bucknell and Princeton are each tied at 6-2 in conference play while Navy stands at 4-2.  Navy plays George Washington and Johns Hopkins on Halloween and if they win both of those games, they will clinch a first place tie.

Fordham rebounded from a disappointing West Coast swing with three huge conference victories.  The Rams topped Queens College on Thursday night 11-10 behind nine goals from Ryan Hultman and fifteen saves from Christian Flessner.  Fordham followed that victory up with wins on Saturday against both Harvard and MIT.  Those three victories combined with Iona’s 10-9 upset over Brown last Sunday means that we have three teams knotted at one loss atop the CWPA Northern Division.  Brown has finished conference play at 5-1.  Fordham and Iona are each 4-1 as Fordham previously lost to Brown while Iona’s lone defeat came at the hands of MIT.  Fordham and Iona are longtime water polo rivals and their game on October 28th now has added importance.  The winner of that contest along with Brown will be able to hang a CWPA Northern Division regular season championship banner in their pool.

Player of the Week

Ryan Hultman, Fordham, Jr.:  The junior from Newport Beach, CA had a career high nine goals in leading the Rams to a crucial 11-10 victory over Queens on Thursday night.  Hultman can both set and play on the outside for the Rams and has quietly been a solid performer over the past three seasons.

Game to Watch

Two of the best goalkeepers in America will be facing off on Thursday night when fourth-ranked UCLA travels to Loyola Marymount to take on the sixth-ranked Lions.  UCLA’s Chay Lapin and Loyola Marymount’s Andy Stevens have both spent significant time training with the United States National team and are in the midst of having years that should have them in the Cutino Award discussion.  Lapin has recorded 113 saves on the season and is closing in on third place on UCLA’s career saves list.  On the other side, Stevens has totaled 204 saves on the season.  This includes two games with twenty-one saves and eleven games with ten or more saves.