The SoCal Invitational was a wild affair with a series of results that rocked the water polo standings. UCSB’s victories against Stanford and UCLA clearly stood out, however there was another surprising match between an emerging power and an established heavyweight. On the tournament’s second day, Pacific stunned local rival California 10-9. This win vaulted the Tigers to sixth in the national poll and was particularly impressive considering they are redshirting Goran Tomasevic, a Cutino Award finalist from 2011.
James Graham has done a remarkable job since arriving at Pacific in the spring of 2008. His win against California means that the Tigers have now beaten both Cal and Stanford in his tenure. In 2010, he led Pacific to its highest national ranking since 1995 when they rose to No. 4. Their sterling performance in that campaign led to Graham being presented the Monte Nitzkowski Award from USA Water Polo. In a year that many thought Pacific would be rebuilding, he has a squad of strong, young Tigers that could be dangerous come November.
Your team is coming off a strong SoCal Invitational in which you finished sixth place and defeated Cal in the process. How did your team step up?
Graham: The win over Cal was great for our program and our guys. Cal is a phenomenal team and one of the most successful programs in water polo history. The team stepped up in that game and we had a lot of unsung heroes. Alex Obert had a big game. Balazs Erdelyi was great as always and Alex Malkis played very well. It was a real team effort.
Balazs Erdelyi is a returning All-American and is arguably one of the five most talented players in the country. What makes him special?
Graham: In my opinion, I think Balazs is the best player in the country and is making a strong argument for the Cutino Award. Balazs is an incredible scorer, but it is beyond that. He is phenomenal on defense, is a great passer and forces teams to deal with him in every aspect of the game. He gets doubled on every possession regardless of where he goes, but still continues to find ways to be effective. Balazs is also an outstanding teammate and constantly makes his teammates better.
Alex Malkis was an All-American in 2010 and is very strong between the pipes. How has been performing this season?
Graham: He was an All-American as a freshman but not as a sophomore so he is hungry. Alex is a great leader for us and he provides a big presence for us in the cage. We put a lot of weight on his shoulders on defense. Alex stepped up for us at SoCals and we know he is capable of great things.
One big decision that your program made is to redshirt Goran Tomasevic along with Balazs Szabo. Can you tell us what decided that move?
Graham: The situation presented itself and we felt it would be good for the program. Both Goran and Balazs had opportunities at the university to add a minor or extra emphasis to their degree and we wanted to let them capitalize on that. We also lost twelve seniors last season and we have a lot of young guys that we wanted to get some experience this year. The goal is to finish this season strong and build for 2013 as Pacific will be hosting the MPSF Tournament at the end of next season.