Oct. 26, 2009
By Trevor Freeman
Special to NCAA.com
Crunch time is rapidly approaching and the race for regular season glory is intensifying. Each game is taking on increasing importance and that was epitomized by some of the contests we had over the last seven days. Highlights included a championship being awarded and a quadruple overtime thriller. We will get into all of that tremendous action in this week’s article.
We begin this week’s column though by sitting down with the coach of a squad that almost authored the weekend’s signature victory. Seventh-ranked UC-Irvine may have lost 8-7 to UCLA on a late Ben Hohl score; however that does not hide the fact that this team is quietly heating up. Marc Hunt took over for the legendary Ted Newland in 2005 and has continued the tradition of success at UC-Irvine. I caught up with Coach Hunt to discuss his squad and their prospects. Below is our interview.
Your team has won six straight games heading into this weekend. That includes wins over UC San Diego, Navy, Long Beach State and UCSB. UC-Irvine feels like it is lurking as an MPSF sleeper. What do the Anteaters have to do to break into the top four of the MPSF?
We have to continue improving. The team needs to remain focused. We have to build on the wins and learn from the losses so that we are at our best for the MPSF Tournament at the end of the season. We need to treat every single game from here on out like it is our last.
You know, we lost in the first round of the UCI Invitational. You never want to not finish in the top eight at your own tournament. We had to deal with not getting it done. I am proud of the team for staying focused and moving forward. We responded well from that first day in defeating a strong Navy and UC San Diego on the second day of that tournament.
In my opinion, Brandon Johnson is one of the more underrated players in the country. I think he is easily one of the top five lefties out there. Can you tell us what makes him such a great player?
Brandon is a cool customer. As good as he is, he understands that he still has a lot to learn. He does have experience though as he was a starter as a freshman on our team that made the MPSF Finals in 2007. Last year, he was one of the leading scorers in the country. This season he isn't scoring as much, however he hasn't gotten down about it. He has accepted a slightly different role and has had a positive attitude in doing that. He brings a maturity to the team, and extends that out as one of our captains. Brandon is very easy to coach.
Cole Bielskis and Tom Kruip are both having big seasons for your team. What makes them so effective?
Cole is our leading scorer right now. In 2007, he had a great season. He's a guy that scored two goals in the fourth quarter of the semifinal MPSF Tournament win over California that season. We redshirted him last year because he had microfracture knee surgery. That's serious. We were worried he might never come back from that. However, he has a great work ethic and has come back and has been solid.
Tom is a transfer from a well-coached Golden West JC team. He has a ton of talent but lacks experience. He's fast, has good size and is a natural outside shooter. What Tom lacks in experience, he makes up for in a desire to improve. I am impressed with how determined he is to correct his weaknesses. He has become a force to deal with in a very short time.
Both Cole and Tom have the ability to play several positions. Their size, speed, and strength allow to them to play inside at two-meters as well as the perimeter.
While fourth-ranked UCLA flirted with disaster at Anteater Pool on Saturday night, they were much more dominant in their matchup with the sixth-ranked Lions of Loyola Marymount on Thursday. If you had told me that Chay Lapin would only have two saves on the day, I would have surmised that Loyola Marymount scored their biggest win of the season. However, all UCLA needed were those two saves as their overall team defense was incredible. Loyola Marymount did not attempt a shot on goal until the 2:23 mark of the second quarter. The Bruins were able to build up a 4-0 lead and keep the Lions at armslength for the rest of the contest to score a 10-5 victory. Scott Davidson and Josh Samuels each scored three goals to lead the Bruins. Andy Stevens had eight saves for Loyola Marymount.
The top two teams in the country were both in action on Saturday. Loyola Marymount limped in to face top-ranked USC and became the Trojans thirty-seventh straight home victim. Shea Buckner and Matt Sagehorn each registered a hat trick in the USC victory. Second-ranked California had a more difficult time in their matchup with fifth-ranked Pepperdine. Down 6-5 in the third quarter, California scored three straight goals to take a lead they would never relinquish. The Golden Bears ended up winning 13-7 with Luka Saponjic’s three goals and Wil Toppen’s eleven saves leading the way.
Justin Koeppen’s third goal of the game led eighth-ranked Long Beach State to an 11-10 victory over ninth-ranked UCSB in a quadruple overtime thriller on Saturday afternoon. This conference win was critical for the 49ers as they are trying to avoid being the lone MPSF team staying home for the conference tournament. Aleksandr Petrovic notched four goals to lead Long Beach State. Jeff Greenwood’s lone goal was a milestone one as it moved him into a fourth-place tie on the 49ers all-time scoring list with Reid Tomasi.
The CWPA Division III Eastern Championships took place at Washington & Jefferson University this weekend and it was a cause for celebration for Johns Hopkins University. The Blue Jays cruised to the championship as they defeated the host Presidents 24-6 in the title tilt. Ten players scored in the Johns Hopkins victory with Peter Sauerhoff’s six leading the charge. Steve Hilty scored three times in the loss for Washington & Jefferson. Despite losing, the Presidents had a nice weekend as they defeated Penn State Behrend and Connecticut College to advance to the title game.
Player of the Week
Drac Wigo, Stanford, Sr.: Wigo hung seven goals on fourteenth-ranked Pacific in a 13-6 win for the Cardinal. The senior from Fort Lauderdale is incredible on the counterattack and also possesses an outstanding outside shot.
Game to Watch
Fourth-ranked UCLA travels to Malibu for a crucial conference game with fifth-ranked Pepperdine. This is a dangerous test for the Bruins as the Waves have been playing good water polo over the last month and should be backed by a boisterous home crowd. Honorable mention goes to this Wednesday’s game between two old rivals in Fordham and Iona. The winner of this game finishes in a tie for the regular season crown in the CWPA Northern Division with Brown.