Sept. 13, 2010

By Trevor Freeman
Special to

Water polo season is now two weeks old and the excitement is building.  This weekend was highlighted by a matchup of two teams that made the Final Four last fall.  We also got our initial glimpse at a national title contender as UCLA took to the pool for the first time this season.  It was important for every squad to fine tune their games as there are two important tournaments kicking off next weekend.  

Before we dive into this past week’s action, we begin by profiling a team that kicked off their season in stellar fashion.  The seventh-ranked Tigers of Pacific defeated eighth-ranked Loyola Marymount at the Triton Invitational on the season’s opening weekend.  That win sent a clear signal that this Pacific team is not only improved but is ready to contend.  In only his third season, James Graham has built a squad that is ready to challenge the nation’s top tier.  I caught up with Coach Graham this past week to discuss his team and below is our interview.

Pacific is a squad that we felt could be a sleeper on the national scene and your win last weekend over Loyola Marymount validated that line of thought. What does UOP need to do to challenge in the MPSF and for an NCAA at-large bid?

“We need a whole lot of consistency. We are more experienced than last year; however we did add a few new pieces. We need a consistent effort both physically and mentally from all sixteen players every game. That will be the key for success in the MPSF and beyond.”

Goran Tomasevic was last year's MPSF Newcomer of the Year and is one of the most physically imposing players in the country. He was outstanding against LMU in your season opener. What makes him the great player he is?

“Goran did a great job this weekend. Being a sophomore, I think he knows what to expect and is just a year wiser. He obviously has great talent and now he knows how to play inside our system. In addition to that his teammates are doing a great job helping showcase his skill by getting him the ball in the right spots. When the team is on the same page, it allows guys to shine.”

Balazs Erdelyi was a big-time recruit and is a favorite for MPSF Newcomer of the Year this season. He was also outstanding against LMU. Can you tell us a little about him?

“Balazs did a great job as well this weekend and had a very good game against LMU. He may have had the best overall performance by making sizeable contributions on both sides of the ball.  So with that said, we have huge expectations for him offensively and defensively as he is skilled in all facets of the game. He has tremendous experience, intelligence and gamesmanship. Him and Goran make a remarkable combination and will only make their teammates better as well. In that LMU game, Goran had five goals while Balazs had two goals and six assists.”

The best matchup of the weekend was fourth-ranked USC taking on eighth-ranked Loyola Marymount at the Lions’ home pool on Sunday.  It was a tale of two halves.  After a competitive first half left the two teams knotted at five apiece, USC edged away from the Lions with an outstanding defensive effort in the second half.  USC held LMU scoreless after the halftime break to garner a 10-5 victory.  Peter Kurzeka and Jeremy Davie each had a hat trick in the win for USC while Andy Stevens had twelve saves in the loss for LMU.  Prior to their Sunday matchup, USC and Loyola Marymount each faced off with top ten opposition on Saturday.  USC routed tenth-ranked Long Beach State 16-4 behind four goals from Matt Burton and three from Davie.  Meanwhile, Loyola Marymount defeated ninth-ranked Pepperdine 7-6 on Tibor Forai’s five-meter penalty shot with 1:20 left.  Forai led LMU with two goals while Stevens notched eleven saves.

Second-ranked UCLA kicked off their season with a 12-4 win over twelfth-ranked Concordia.  Ben Hohl led UCLA with three goals and Cristiano Mirarchi and Emilio Viera each added two in a game that UCLA controlled from the outset.  Keep an eye on Mirarchi as the freshman was a high-profile recruit for the Bruins.  Mirarchi has played in sixty games with Italy’s Junior National team and has three caps with their National squad.

On the other side of the Mississippi River, there were major tournaments taking place at both Bucknell and Princeton.  The team of the weekend had to be St. Francis as they flexed their muscles at the Bison Invitational.  The sixteenth-ranked Terriers defeated fourteenth-ranked Navy 10-8 on Saturday behind four goals from Aleksandar Pantic and ten saves from Nikola Djuric.  On Sunday, St. Francis defeated the host Bison 9-5.  Marko Gencic figured prominently in the victory as he tallied a hat trick.  St. Francis is arguably the most talented team on the East Coast and it should not surprise anybody that they are getting out of the gate fast.  Their big advantage is in the cage as Djuric is right there with Mike Merlone at Princeton and Andy Sekulski at Mercyhurst for the honor of being the top returning goalie in the East.

Speaking of Merlone, he was electric in eighteenth-ranked Princeton’s 11-9 upset victory over thirteenth-ranked Santa Clara at the Princeton Invitational.  Merlone notched ten saves while Tim Wenzlau scored five goals to lead all scorers.  Princeton also defeated Fordham and Harvard at their tournament; however their lone loss was to a squad that had an outstanding weekend in New Jersey.  In July, California Baptist was approved for NCAA Division II membership and they are in the process of making that transition.  The seventeenth-ranked Lancers defeated Princeton 11-5 on Friday behind a hat trick from Aaron Steiger.  Cal Baptist also knocked off Iona, Johns Hopkins and Harvard over the weekend to move to 6-1 on the season.  An outstanding argument can be made that the Lancers are being severely underrated in the current national rankings.  Their lone loss was by a 10-9 count to UC-Irvine at UC-Irvine on a goal that came with thirty-two seconds left.  UC-Irvine is currently ranked fifth while Cal Baptist is ranked seventeenth which says to me that Cal Baptist’s national ranking probably needs to be reevaluated.

Player of the Week

Milos Golic, UC-Santa Barbara, Sr.:  Golic scored six goals on Saturday to lead UCSB to a 16-6 win over eleventh-ranked UC-San Diego.  This was the ninth straight game in which Golic has scored multiple goals.  This six-goal outburst also means that Golic is only twenty-two goals away from breaking UCSB’s career scoring record which is currently held by Larry Mouchawar.

Contest to Watch
This weekend will be our first shakeout Saturday as the entire top ten and thirteen of the nation’s top sixteen teams will converge on Saturday and Sunday for the NorCal Invitational.   Out East, ECACs are this weekend and it will be interesting to see if St. Francis establishes that they are clearly the preeminent squad on the Atlantic coast.