Sept. 15, 2009

By Trevor Freeman
Special to

The Men's Water Polo season has officially gotten underway as there were a number of intriguing games and tournaments on the docket.  The heavyweights were beginning to tune up their engines for the NorCal Tournament and upsets were happening from coast to coast.  Titles were even awarded this weekend as the Division II Eastern Championships took place.

Before we begin covering the national scene, we have a special treat as I got a chance to sit down with the coach of a squad that should be a factor in the CWPA Northern Division.  Located at the picturesque Rose Hill campus in the Bronx is a Fordham team that is returning five starters and is ready to make their biggest impact on the water polo scene in years.  They are led by United States Water Polo Hall of Famer Bill Harris.  This past week, we spoke about this team and its upcoming campaign and below is our interview.

The CWPA North looks to be very competitive this season with no clear cut favorite. What does Fordham have to do to bring the championship banner to Rose Hill?

The CWPA North is going to be very competitive this season.  In my view there is a favorite this year in Brown.  They are a talented group with a very good coach in Felix Mercado, the team finished in first place in the conference over St. Francis in '08. Our program at Fordham has improved over the last five years and now we are competitive against the other teams in the conference. Any success will rest on the team working very hard on fundamentals, conditioning and staying healthy. After Brown, all of our competitors in the Northern Conference are capable adversaries and have our respect.  The continued support of our devoted alums and the Athletic Department have been important contributing factors to the gains of our program.

Alex Powell is one of the best perimeter shooters in the country and should contend for All-America status this season. Can you tell us what makes him so effective?

Alex Powell is a fine athlete and a pleasure to coach.  He is a pure shooter and has earned the attention of our competition.  Alex could have played for several top teams on the West Coast but he chose Fordham to get a great education and experience life in New York City.  As far as postseason awards, time will tell. Alex like the rest of the team is more concerned about our overall success than individual honors. Water Polo is a team sport and without workhorses like Scott Nemecek, Andrew McKernin, Andrew Dentinger and Jakob Muller our program would not have achieved the modest successes gained over the last few years.

Fordham quietly had a great recruiting class capped off by the signing of Turkish Senior National team player Ali Arat. Can you tell us what you are expecting out of the newcomers?

We were fortunate to recruit six new additions to the program.  Three are freshmen in Jake Bakas, Cashel Barnett, and Daniel Barron; all of them come from strong programs and will contribute this season.  Three additional athletes are transfers with strong credentials.  Ali Arat from Turkey is a talented young man and a MBA candidate.  Ali will help us more and more as he adjusts to the NCAA type of game which is a big change from his FINA background.  Mike Edwards and Victor Bautista Medina are experienced, proven athletes from California programs and both add skill and size to the team.  All of these young men will give us the depth to compete at the varsity level; they are all a pleasure to work with here at Fordham.

The marquee tournament of the weekend was the Princeton Invitational and its most high-profile game was a Friday night faceoff between fourth-ranked UCLA and the eleventh-ranked host.  Princeton entered the game with dreams of an upset; however those dreams were squashed with four consecutive UCLA goals in the second quarter that stretched a 3-1 lead to 7-1 at the half.  Fourteen different players scored in the 17-4 Bruin win.  The Bruins were outstanding on defense and their perimeter shooters lit up the Tigers.  While UCLA looked amazing, Princeton has had better nights.  Their shooters were hesitant from the perimeter and their usually stout defense was leakier than normal.  The rest of UCLA’s road trip was a success as they defeated Brown, Iona, Johns Hopkins and Bucknell by a combined score of 64-21.

Top-ranked USC and third-ranked California were both in action this week and they both rolled.  The Trojans extended their winning streak to thirty-four games with a 12-3 victory over ninth-ranked Long Beach State.  Justin Rappel and Matt Burton each scored three goals to lead the Trojans.  Third-ranked California won its home opener 12-4 over seventeenth-ranked UC-Davis.  Cory Nasoff, Mike Sample, Ivan Rackov and Charlie Steffens each scored twice in the victory.

Whittier traveled to fifth-ranked Loyola Marymount in a highly anticipated matchup.  With their outstanding recruiting class, many feel that Whittier might be a team that can compete with Loyola Marymount for the WWPA title.  Perhaps the Poets will progress to that point by the time postseason comes around, but they are not at LMU’s level just yet as the Lions were dominant in an 11-3 victory.  Derek Milligan and Max Schlegel each scored three goals while Andy Stevens continued his strong start by turning back fourteen Whittier shots.

A few tasty intersectional matchups between CWPA and WWPA foes took place over the weekend.  Seventeenth-ranked Navy defeated thirteenth-ranked UC San Diego 11-10 in double overtime on a score from Stevie Ray.  Ray notched a career-high five goals in the Midshipmen victory.  Meanwhile, twelfth-ranked Air Force and fifteenth-ranked St. Francis split a pair of games at the East Meets West Tournament in Colorado Springs.

Eighth-ranked UC-Irvine kicked off its season with wins over Chapman, Redlands, Claremont-Mudd Scripps and Pomona-Pitzer at the Inland Empire Classic.  The Anteaters won the four games by a combined score of 80-21.  Tenth-ranked Pacific and fourteenth-ranked Concordia were also at the classic and Concordia scored the 7-6 upset win on a Duje Grubsic goal with 1:06 left.   

The Division II Eastern Championships were contested over the weekend and Mercyhurst walked away with its third consecutive title.  The Lakers defeated Queens College and then Gannon University to claim the championship.  Juniors Andy Sekulski and Alex Moggridge led the way for Mercyhurst as Sekulski compiled twenty-eight saves over the two games while Moggridge pumped in ten goals.

Player of the Week

Andy Sekulski, Mercyhurst, Jr.:  The two-time first-team Division II All-American had fifteen saves in Mercyhurst’s 9-6 Division II Eastern Championship game win over Gannon.  Sekulski quietly might be one of the ten best goalies in the country.  He is stout in one on one situations and his 6’5” frame enables him to block the corners with ease.    

Game to Watch

The water polo universe will be centered on Palo Alto, California as the NorCal Tournament will be taking place.  The top ten teams in the nation will all be competing, which means we will have more clarity when it comes to the NCAA water polo power structure by Sunday.