No one even pauses when they gaze at the national polls and see UCSD, a DII program, ranked ahead of their DI brethren. Last season UCSD once again qualified for the national tournament and they return the core of last year’s squad for the upcoming campaign. The Triton squad will try to take up permanent residence in the nation’s top 10 this season, working up from No. 11 in the preseason poll.
UCSD is led by Denny Harper. In Harper’s 32 years, UCSD has won 15 WWPA Championships and he has been named WWPA Coach of the Year 16 times. Harper is one of the winningest coaches in the history of water polo with a 555-409-4 record on both the men’s and women’s side. UCSD made it all the way to the championship game in 2000 after knocking off USC in the semifinals. Harper believes the players have the drive to redeem their last performance at Berkley versus UCLA.
Your team is returning a lot of its depth and talent from last year’s WWPA Champions, but your All-American keeper David Morton has graduated. Can you tell us about the race to replace him?
Harper: David Morton was always going to be a difficult player to replace. When I think back of all the incredible goalkeepers that we have had in our program, it is remarkable that David is now the leading shot-stopper in UCSD history. We will miss David, but the competition to replace him has brought the best out of our current group of goalkeepers. Nick Michels can be a very intimidating presence in the cage due to the length of his 6’6’’ frame. The junior has overcome a lot in his career and is ready to step forward to challenge for the position. Cameron Ravanbach is a local product out of La Jolla High School and is a tremendous athlete. The sophomore has already put in some great performances over the summer against some of the top teams in the nation. Finally, Daniel Schwartz is a freshman who loves to compete and is improving every day. The goalkeeping competition has been very healthy and we are excited about the progress each of these players has made.
Brian Donahoe is a great player and leader for your squad. What makes him a stand-out athlete?
Harper: Brian Donohoe is an incredibly intelligent individual, both in and out of the water. Last season he was honored with receiving the NCAA’s Elite 89 award, given to the student-athlete with the highest cumulative grade-point average participating at the NCAA championships. When he graduates this June, he will be following in his brother Steven’s footsteps by attending whichever medical school he so desires. He has tremendous awareness in the pool and has a great understanding of the game. His leadership skills have been an invaluable component to the progress this group has made together.
John Butler is another returning All-American. What made him deserving of that honor?
Harper: John plays with a passion that few players are able to match. He brings a great energy to our team and is always willing to go the extra distance needed to be successful. He is a well-balanced student-athlete whose time management skills have set a positive example to the rest of our players. Along with Brian Donohoe and Chris Barton, John was elected a team captain by his peers. The leadership and experience we have in this program will be something that we lean on throughout this fall campaign.
What does your team need to do to get back to the championships again this year?
Harper: The quest to defend the WWPA crown is a great challenge and one that our players have accepted with tremendous enthusiasm. The team knows how difficult it will be to win back-to-back titles in this conference, but fortunately we have a veteran group who understands what it takes to get to the show. While last season was a fun achievement to get back to the NCAA’s after a few years away, the returning players have a bad taste in their mouths based on our performances up in Berkeley. This group is a veteran-laden ballclub that is hungry to get back to the pinnacle of college water polo and eager to play a little bit more like themselves. With that said, it is still going to be a dogfight that will ultimately come down to our execution in crunch-time situations.