NCAA Water Polo Preview: Stanford Shoots for 9th Title

PALO ALTO, CA., Dec. 1 — TOP-ranked Stanford, 20-1, will be gunning for its ninth NCAA men's water polo championship when it hits the pool against the
University of Massachusetts Minutemen here this afternoon in the first semi-final match of the 2001 NCAA Collegiate Championship.

The other semi-final match will feature No. 2-ranked and double-defending champ UCLA (15-4) against Loyola-Marymount's Lions, who are making their initial tourney appearance.

The two winners will meet Sunday afternoon for the championshiup while the losers will battle for third. All matches are taking place in Stanford's new Avery Aquatic Center, site of last spring's inaugural NCAA women's collegiate championship, won by UCLA over Stanford.

Stanford's Cardinal, coached by retiring Dante Dettamante, is led by Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Player of the Year Tony Asevedo, a red-shirt freshman from Long Beach, CA. who was a United States Olympian at Sydney last year.

A solid 6-4, 220-pounder with a wicked shot and a variety of moves that would make the guy who plays for the Washington Wizards jealous, Azevedo leads the country with 64 goals in 21 games, and has not been shut out all season.

Stanford won its way into the Final Four with its 7-5 victory over Bay Area rival Cal in the finals of the MPSF Tournament last Sunday at the Golden Bears' Spieker Aquatics Complex in Berkeley, and Azevedo scored the decisive goal.

UCLA, which has lost to Stanford thrice this season (10-6 in Westwood, 7-4 at Stockton in the finals of the NorCal Tourney and 8-3 at Avery last last month), made it into the Final Four for the third-consecutive season off its 7-6 double-overtime victory against Cal. State Long Beach — coached by the younger Azevedo's father Rich — in the third-place MPSF match.

Loyola (14-13) gained admittance via its victory over last year's NCAA runners-up, U Cal San Diego, in the finals of the Western Water Polo Assn. Championships a couple of weeks ago at their new home pool — which will serve as site of next year's national championships (Dec. 7-8).

Massachusetts (29-5), third in the 1999 NCAA Tourney, got in via an 8-4 victory last Sunday over Queens College in the finals of the Collegiate Water Polo Assn. Championships at Princeton. The high-scoring Minutemen (368 goals) are led by former Orange County prep All-America Mike Foley (53 goals) and Greg Trayer (49).

The tourney is ripe with intrigue. Not only is Dettamante seeking his eighth ring (which would tie him with Cal's Pete Cutino for most championships), but he was also a graduate assistant to former UCLA head coach Bob Horn when the Bruins won the inaugural NCAA Championships at Long Beach's Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool in the fall of 1969.

A Cardinal victory would give the home team nine titles, second to Cal's 11.

Dettamante has 664 victories during his 32 years as a coach. He began his career at Occidental College in Los Angeles (1971-'73), moved to U Cal Santa Barbara a year later, and took over the reins at Stanford followimg the '76 season — where he's since gone 568-148-6.

His overall record of 664-209-6 ranks him No. 2 behind Irvine's Ted Newlsnd's 672-303. However, Newland — with five more yers of coaching on his resume — has only two rings to Dettamante's aforementioned seven, with No. 8 on the horizon. Stanford has also finished national No. 2 a half-dozen times, although as they say, "close only counts in horse shoes and hand grenades."

Would the retiring coach reconsider his decision to "hang 'em up" with Azevedo back for another three years?

"Not a chance" he said in an on-line chat Thursdday.

"I'm turning over the program to John Vargas" (a former UCI All-America won helped guide the Anteaters to one of their two NCAA Championships and who also has coached Corona del Mar High to the last two consecutive CIF Division II titles) "hoping in my new RV and heading out across this great country of ours. I plan on traveling to New Orleans for Mardi Gras [he
officially retires Jan. 1] and then take in the sites all across America.

"The program will be in great hands with John and I'm confident he'll continue our great tradition."

But coach, you're less than 10 wins behind Newland, surely you want to stick around and become No. 1 all-time?

"Uh uh. Ted's still active at Irvine and I don't see him leaving anytime soon so now's a good time to call it a day. And if I ever do come back on deck it would probably in the national leagues of Italy or in Europe
someplace. Anywhere I don't have to recruit or do all of the paperwork and rules required by the NCAA"

UCLA has seven championships and a Bruin win would tie them with the Cardinal for No. 2 all-time.

Only Cal has "three-peated" and the Bears have done it twice, once under Cutino ('73-'75, all against U Cal Irvine) and again under Steve Heaston ('90-'92). So a Bruin victory would put them halfway on the road to the Bears' double trey.

But history (and Stanford!) both loom large against UCLA making it three-straight.

In the tourney's 32-year history, no team that has won twice in succession (excepting Cal) has ever gotten to three in-a-row. Stanford, under Dettamante, won back-to-back championships in '80'-'81 but lost to Irvine in the '82 finals, 7-4.

"We're not playing history, we're playing Loyola," UCLA coach Adam Krikorian says dismissively. "Our only focus now is our match Saturday. We'll worry
about Stanford another day."

The Bruins defeated the Lions 9-4 earlier in the season at Westwood.

Similarly, Dettamante is not making any predictions.

"We've only seen UMass on tape and they look like a strong outfit. In a four-team, single-elimination format like we have anything can happen
— just look at UCSD beating USC last year to gain the finals — so just because we're ranked No. 1 doesn't mean we're a 'lock.

"But I do like our chances."

And why not?

With Azevedo leading the way, the Cardinal is a strong, balanced team with a splendid goalie in junior Nick Ellis, who's 154 saves in 20 games (7.7 average per game) lead the nation. Add hole man Peter Hudnot
(first-team all-MPSF selectee), senior two-meter Parsi Dutton, junior field man Jeff Guyman plus Australian import Onno Koelman and Stanford has a very solid lineup.

Plus that "old home cookin'" inthefriendly confines of Avery can't hurt either.

"The Avery Center is probably the finest facility in the country and one of the best in the world. So far it hasn't really helped in recuritimng but it has helped in coaching in that all of our aquatic teams can train year 'round without having to share space," Dettamante noted.

* * * * *

UCLA lost much of its title-winning squad due to graduation but the Bruins have been pleasantly surprised — and suitably impressed — with the play of freshman driver Brett Ormsby, their leading scorer with 38 goals. Teammate Alfonso Tucay has 28.

On defense the Bruins are led by senior two-time All-America goalie Brandon Brooks, a Honolulu native who has 152 saves in 19 games for an average of 8 saves per game — tops nationally.

Does Bruin coach Krikorian, in his third year at the UCLA helm, think Stanford hs the edge with its three victories this season?

"On paper Stanford's the favorite, no question," he said. "But we're not playing the tournament on paper, we're doing it in the pool. Stanford's an
excellent team as shown by their record. They've beaten us three times, they've won the [MPSF] tournament, but they lost their final match of the
season — at home — to Cal [4-3]. We've got to get in the finals first and so does Stanford. Then we can worry about No. 4."

UMass will feel right at home when it visits Palo Alto this weekend as the Minutemen have eight playerse on their roster from the Golden State, including three from the Bay Area, and SoCal native Foley. The senior star has scored 169 goals during his stay in Amherst, a school record.

Goalie J.R. Vanderwall has been a stellar defender, collecting 237 saves.

The Minutemen have not faced either Stanford, UCLA or Loyola this year.

The LMU Lions, ranked eighth nationally, are led by NorCal native Steve Lipinski, a freshman from Palo Alto's St. Francis High. The third-leading scorer nationally with 56 goals in 27 games, Lipinski has had support from Kevin Witt (37 goals), Tamas Szego (36) and Kris Barr (33). Eight players on the team also are from the Bay Area.

Lion coach John Loughran was named WWPA Coach of the Year for his league championship and he also guides the Loyola women's program too.

* * * * *

Until about a decade ago, the Final Four was a Final Eight. But cost-cutting measures by the NCAA have reduced the filed to a four-team tournament.

"The NCAA came up with a formula based on the number of universities that sponsor men's water polo. Since we have about 50 schools with varsity programs we only get 10%, or four schools, in the Championship. Men's
volleyball is in the same boat as well. Because of Title IX [designed to 'equalize' funding for men's and women's collegiate sports] schools are still cutting men's programs [along with swimming] so I don't see us growing on the men's side. The women will soon have more teams than the men have now," Dettamante explained.

As for how Azevedo can become, the coach added: "I've coached a lot of great guys over the years — people like Jody Campbell, Wolf Wigo, Greg Boyer, Craig Klass — just to name a few. But Tony's the best water polo player we have ever produced in this country and the best I have ever coached. He was an Olympian out of high school, made the All-World at
Sydney based on a vote by journalists there, was the leading scorer on our World Championship team this past summer — the guy's done it all and he's just 20 yers old.

"A few more like him and we'd be potential gold medalists every time out. But give his father Ricardo a lot of credit for his skills and his mother Libby credit for the fine young man he's turned out to be."

Dettamante should also give himself a bit ofcredit for convincing Azevedo to abjure his dad's CSULB program for The Farm, but then a four-year fullride at Stanford vs. one at Long Beach is a "no brainer" — academically and athletically.

— Bill Bell

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