UCLA head coach gears up for rivals
Wright stays active in the pool as part of U.S. National Team
Adam Wright has spent most of his life around the sport of water polo. He has been one of America’s top players, earning spots on the United States National Team and on the 2004 and 2008 Olympic squads. His contributions in 2008 were important in helping the United States secure a Silver Medal. Prior to being a vital cog of the U.S. National Team, he played at UCLA where he was a key member of their back-to-back NCAA championship teams in 1999 and 2000. Now he is entering his third season as the Bruins head coach, where his team is 42-13 during his tenure.
Coach Wright recently discussed the Bruins chances against USC and Cal, his active involvement as a player in the game and which player is the "glue guy" for the Bruins.
Last year, UCLA went 0-6 against USC and California while going 19-0 versus the rest of the country. Both USC and California will once again be stacked. What does UCLA need to do to reverse these results against these two squads?
Wright: "We were able to get over that hump against USC two years ago. Before that, we hadn't beaten them since 2007. They are the three-time [defending] NCAA champions. That team is something special. We got off to slow starts against them last year. You cannot spot a team like USC three to four goals and expect to win. We've been working on that this offseason. It really comes down to defense. We also cannot give up ten goals before the start of the fourth quarter and expect to win. A better start will put us in a better situation against the No. 1 team in the country.
"As far as Cal, they are an excellent team. Everyone is chasing USC and Cal. Cal is a physical team and perhaps it took a quarter or a half for us to respond to that when we played them. Ivan Rackov and Luka Saponjic are both great. I'm not sure, but I would guess Rackov had at least four goals each of the times we played."
You are coming off another summer where you played for Team USA at the FINA World Championships. How does getting in the water and still being a top-notch player help you when guiding the Bruins?
Wright: "It is something that I really believe has been a major help for me. The game is constantly progressing and evolving with much of that happening in Europe. It is a nice luxury to play at the highest level and get to see what other coaches are doing tactically and in training."
A lot of people point at Josh Samuels or Cristiano Mirarchi as being the headliners of this team. However, when watching your team, it often seems Cullen Hennessy is the glue of your team and one of the most underrated players on a top-tier squad. Can you tell us what makes him the great player that he is?
Wright: "Cullen is a kid that has impressed me since the first day I came back to take this job. He is somebody that gets it done with his actions. He is a vocal leader for us. Cullen has an incredible work ethic as well. I thought he could have been on that team that competed at the World University Games. However, he had some injury issues that he needed to rest up for this season. Cullen finds a way to insert himself into big games and has scored big goals for us. He is a key defender who we always have mark the other team's best perimeter player. He is our captain and he has been a leader on this team for a couple of years now. He doesn't miss a beat during training. He may not score a ton of goals, but people like you notice how important he is to our team."