2018 Men’s Water Polo Preview: The Western Water Polo Association

UC Davis men's water polo after winning a second-straight WWPA title. Photo Courtesy: Mark Honbo

Starting today, Swimming World will post previews of the six conferences that will send teams to the 2018 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament, to be held November 29 – December 2 at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center. Look to SW for in-depth stories and game recaps of all the action from this year’s exciting NCAA men’s varsity action.

Play for 2016-2017 Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) defending champions University of California at Davis opens on Saturday, September 1, as the Aggies travel East to take on Harvard in the Bruno Classic.

wwpa-logo-apr-17According to Steve Doten, the WWPA Commissioner, 2018 will be a season of fine-tuning conference play, a process that has been ongoing since he arrived in 2017.

“We are working on improving the conference in every way possible and this year we are working with Bob Corb (NCAA Director of Officials), Mitch Carty (WWPA Director of Officials) and the National Evaluator’s Group to raise our level of officiating,” Doten said in an email to Swimming World. “Last year, we brought in referee headsets so the officials could communicate better. That was a big hit.”

As part of his effort to push his conference to a “higher level,” Doten was recently at Stanford for the Referee Coach Education School presented by Corb.


Photo Courtesy: Steve Doten

“The game is inherently competitive, we all know this, and our coaches and teams are very competitive,” Doten said. “We also need to realize that… [c]ooperation between coaches, officials, etc. is the key to success. Through cooperation we become more competitive.”

No matter how the game is played and officiated, it will be hard to deny UC Davis a three-peat in 2018, though Doten notes that University of San Diego’s Denny Harper—currently the longest-tenured coach in NCAA varsity polo—wants to get back to the NCAAs before he retires. With four teams in the Collegiate Water Polo Associations 2018 Men’s Varsity pre-season poll,  the prospects are good for an exciting 2018 WWPA season.

Balancing Harper, with 38 years at UCSD, is Air Force’s Ryan Brown, entering his first season as the Falcon’s coach.


UC Davis (#7 CWPA pre-season poll) has captured the WWPA’s automatic NCCA qualifier spot the past two season, and 2016 + 2017 WWPA Coach of the Year Dan Leyson’s latest squad appears poised for a third straight trip. Ido Goldschmidt (62 goals, 43 assists) led the Aggies last season, when the now-senior from Israel garnered All-America honors, He was also selected first-team All-Western Water Polo Association. Senior Marcus Anderson (45 goals, 35 assists) was close behind Goldschmidt on the UC Davis scoring chart. R.J. Quigley (21 starts, 114 saves, 8.7 goals against) returns to the Aggie nets this fall for his senior year.

The Aggies sustained losses to graduation—Spencer Galli (37 goals, 14 assists) and Morgan Olson-Fabbro (37 goals, 11 assists)—but they’ve more than compensated for them with eight newcomers. Among the class of 2022 are Seif Elmankabadi, a freshman from Thousand Oaks High, who will provide depth to the center position. More immediate help for the Aggies’ pivot will come from Nir Gross, who followed his countryman Goldschmidt to Northern California.

Perhaps the biggest question facing Keyson’s squad is: having achieved a program high #8 poll spot in 2017, can they break through to the NCAA tournament’s Final Four this season.

Key Match-Up: Saturday, November 3 vs. UC San Diego


The past few season the WWPA has been a two-team race; the Tritons of UC San Diego (#12 CWPA) had a run of three straight titles (2013-15) terminated by the Aggies in 2016. After a 6-1 WWPA regular season in 2017, UCSD is likely to again face UC Davis in the conference final. Before looking ahead, Harper will likely ensure his squad isn’t over-taken by an improving Cal Baptist squad.

Graduation claimed Arman Momdzhyan (54 goals), who was named ACWPC DII Player of the Year for the second consecutive year.

Luckily, Harper’s youthful 2017 squad (18 underclassmen) now has a year of experience to draw on. 2017 WWPA Freshman of the Year as well as an All-WWPA Second Team selection Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt (team-high 56 goals and 36 steals) will again lead the way. Juniors Skyler Munatones (25 goals, 29 assists), Alessandro Valania (17 goals, 19 assists, team-high 33 assists) and Cooper Milton (21 goals) will also provide leadership.

Red-shirt junior Sam Thompson (225 saves), who started all 25 matches in the Triton net, returns for his third year after being named 2017 ACWPC All-America First Team goalie and All-WWPA First Team.

Key Match-Up: Friday, October 5, Cal Baptist


The Cal Baptist Lancers (#16 CWPA) have been chasing the Aggies and the Tritons the past few seasons, and now may be the right moment for Kevin Rosa’s squad to leapfrog both the Tritons and the Aggies and get to their first-ever NCAA men’s water polo tournament.

A key newcomer is  Thomas Appel, a graduate student who played two seasons at California (2014, 2015)—one of the country’s best programs. He will join seniors goalie Tanner Shore (52 goals, team-high 43 assists), Kyle Christian (35 goals, 42 assists), Ryan Sargis (20 goals, 24 assists) and goalie Matt Miller (135 saves; 11.19 GAA) to provide the veteran leadership needed if the Lancers are to make it to the WWPA final.

They’ll need to overcome the loss to graduation of Jonny Lotero (87 goals, 14 assists), who led CBU in goals. Junior Dominick Nevarez (55 goals, 40 assists) returns, as does Gabe Throne (244 saves; 11.78 GAA) who will battle it out with Miller for the Lancers’ top netminder job.

Key Match-Up: Saturday, September 22, UC Davis


A change in leadership at the Air Force Academy (tied for #20 CWPA) will have a profound impact on the present and future of Falcon polo. After seven years assisting Jeff Heidmous—who retired last spring after 25 years and 328 wins, the most in program history—Ryan Brown ascends to the top spot on the Falcon bench. Brown’s new responsibilities will not be made easier with a freshmen-laden squad; 11 newcomers dot Brown’s extended roster, with only three seniors are among the 33 players.

Riley Thompson (46 goals, 27 assists), a first-team all-Western Water Polo Association selection, is gone as is Garrett Fisk (27 goals, 12 assists, team-high 18 steals), but senior Justin Harrison (40 goals, 9 assists) returns, as does junior Michael Miller (21 goals). Having sophomore James Burke (198 saves, 12.18 GAA) in nets will likely provide some comfort in Brown’s inaugural season as Falcons’ head coach.

Key Match-Up: Saturday, September 8, U.S. Naval Academy at Princeton Invitational


2017 turned out to be a very good year for Concordia; the question is will 2018 continue a positive upward trend for Head Coach Dreason Barry’s squad? A relative newcomer to the WWPA after arriving in 2015, the Eagles delivered an impressive 12-11 record in 2017, including a 4-3 record in conference play after going winless the previous two season in WWPA play.

Concordia will not be able to take conference foes by surprise this season—but will be competitive with an experienced line-up of 14 upperclassmen, anchored by seniors Angel Rojas (41 goals, 45 steals, 9 assists) and goalie Alfredo De La Mora (180 saves). Dynamic sophomore Patrick Zsiros (37 goals, 11 assists, 21 steals) returns after a freshman campaign that saw the Hungarian native selected for the 2017 WWPA All Freshman Team

Barry, who for his coaching efforts was awarded the 2017 Monte Nitzkowski Distinguished Coaching Award, may again find a way to finish in the upper half of the conference. He’ll have to do it without Spencer Hosch (34 goals, 12 assists, 22 steals).

Key Match-Up: Saturday, September 1, Air Force at Triton Invitational


After finishing just ahead of last-place Fresno State in 2017, Loyola Marymount will look to move up in the WWPA. Success in 2018 for John Loughran’s squad may rest on the Shaw brothers of Irvine, CA. Sophomore Joseph Shaw (29 goals, 27 assists) was second on the Lions in scoring; his brother Tim (45 saves, 10.09 GAA) backed up the now-graduated Dominick Beaudine (194 saves, 10.12 GAA). The red-shirt senior is the likely starter for LMU this season.

The younger Shaw is part of a lion youth movement; fellow underclassmen Alessio Brunocelli (36 goals, 11 assists) and Jacob Markle (17 goals) will combine with juniors Matt Braun (team-high 47 goals and 40 steals) and Austin Clark (29 goals, 8 assists) to help improve an LMU offense which tallied 227 goals last year, far behind CBU’s conference-leading total of 446. Defense may also be an issue for the Lions, as their relatively stingy (288 goals) backline lost Beaudine.

Key Match-Up: Saturday, October 27 vs. Concordia


Santa Clara returns Sam Toriggino (17 goals), Reilley May (29 goals, 41 assists), Mac Carey (29 goals, 41 assists), Shane Hughes (22 goals, 27 assists), Patrick Kirk (32 goals, 8 assists) and Emil Huebner (25 games started, 163 saves, 226 goals allowed) from a Broncos squad that in 2017 went 8-17 and finished fifth in the WWPA.

Lost to graduation are DeMarco Orella (26 goals, team-high 33 assists, 22 steals) and John Raineri (27 goals); Keith Wilbur’s squad should have more than enough talent to avoid the WWPA basement. Question is, can they break into the upper half of the conference in 2018?

Key Match-Up: Saturday, November 3 vs. Loyola Marymount


Fresno Pacific has much to do this season to reverse two negative trends from 2017; goals scored and goals against. Last season, the Sunbirds scored 204 goals in going winless in the conference—their second straight season without a WWPA victory. On the other side of the ball, Bryan Suhovy’s team allowed 344 goals, second most in the conference behind Cal Baptist—though the Lancers also scored a conference-high 446.

Both Josh Ramage (14.20 GAA) and Joseph Costa (12.53 GAA) will need to do a better job in the Sunbirds’ net. On offense seniors Lazar Raca (30 goals, 37 assists, 34 steals), Kyle Eoff (season-high 46 goals;ACWPC Division II All-American First Team) and Richard Szepesi (30 goals, 15 assists) will need to boost their play if Fresno Pacific—which will host the 2018 WWPA Men’s Water Polo Tournament—is to escape the conference cellar.

The good news? Of Suhovy’s top scorers, only Erik Brown (17 goals, 31 assists) was lost to graduation.

Key Match-Up: Wednesday, October 10 vs. Santa Clara