2019 Swimming World Men’s Water Polo Previews: Western Water Polo Association

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Denny Harper—40 years and counting at UC San Diego—and looking for another WWPA title. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

The Tritons of UC San Diego are leaving the Western Water Polo Association after this season—and the rest of the league can’t wait to say good-bye! As part of a move from NCAA DII to DI status, UCSD is moving all of its sports to the Big West by 2020. Before they go, they’re favored for yet another WWPA title.

wwpa-logo-apr-17But, not if UC Davis and Loyola Marymount have anything to say about it. The Aggies and the Lions represent the strongest challengers to a Triton program that has won four of the last six league titles.

California Baptist, Air Force, Santa Clara, Concordia and Fresno Pacific will all fight to break into the upper half of the WWPA standings—or perhaps to tag UCSD with a loss on their way out the door.

Editor’s Note: Rankings in parentheses indicate results of the 2019 Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Preseason Poll

uc-san-diegoLast year was one of the best in UC San Diego (#9) history. A WWPA title and then a magical run to the NCAA semifinals—the first Final Four appearance for the Tritons since a spot in the 2000 national championship match—saw Head Coach Denny Harper’s team compile a 20-6 record while going 9-1 in conference play.

Expect more of the same for 2019. Returning to a Triton offense that racked up 343 goals in 2018 are leading scorers Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt (78 goals, 32 assists), Skyler Munatones (34 goals, team-high 39 assists), Kacper Langiewicz (35 goals) and Noah Carniglia (34 goals).

Throw in goalie Jack Turner (257 saves, 8.9 goals against average, 2018 ACWPC All-America Player of the Year) and a deep recruiting class, and it’s easy to see why Harper’s peers see fit to shower the Tritons with accolades.

But this final round of WWPA play won’t be a victory lap. UCSD’s lone conference loss last year was to UC Davis—which snatched the WWPA crown from the Tritons in 2017 and are responsible for the programs only conference losses in the last three years.

Cole Martinez (14 goals) and Kevin Asplund (12 goals, 27 points) were lost to graduation, but Harper has brought in 10 freshmen, including Narayan Sharma of Miramonte High School and Frank Lozinski of St Francis High School as well as transfers Karlo Krmek of Long Beach Community College—and formerly with VK Jug in Croatia—and Micah Kamei of Golden West College.

Key Match-Up: UC Irvine, Saturday, September 7, San Diego, CA

uc-davis-aggiesIf there’s one team that knows how to stop the Tritons, it’s UC Davis (#10). Under Head Coach Daniel Leyson, the Aggies have tagged their chief WWPA antagonists with losses in each of the last four seasons—including in the 2016 and 2017 conference finals.

To take the crown back this season, UCD needs to get production from Jack Stafford (37 goals, team-high 39 assists), Nir Gross (35 goals) and Yuri Hanley (29 goals, 20 assists, 28 steals),

They’ll have to make due without Ido Goldschmidt (51 goals, team-high 80 points; 2018 WWPA Player of the Year), Marcus Anderson (43 goals, 24 assists) and goalie R.J. Quigley (128 saves). In all, the Aggies lost 137 goals to graduation.

To compensate for these loses, Leyson has brought in a quintet of freshmen: Logan Anderson of Sir Francis Drake High School, Max Stryker of Acalanes High School, Aaron Voggenthaler of Poway High School. and goalies Paul Gouchon from Saint Ignatius Prep and Aaron Wilson of Damien High School.

Key Match-Up: UC San Diego, Saturday, November 9, La Jolla, CA

LMUOne WWPA team that has not been successful against UC San Diego—or UC Davis, for that matter—is Loyola Marymount (#14). Dating back to 2015, the Lions have lost seven straight to the Tritons, and six straight to the Aggies.

This season LMU features one senior and 11 juniors, and they seek a reversal of fortune. Since a spectacular run of eight WWPA titles in ten years—including four-straight titles from 2007 – 2010—the Lions have not been to a conference final since an 11-9 loss to Santa Clara in 2015.

Blazo Mitrovic (76 goals) and Alexandros Athymaritis (46 goals) return, as does goalie Robert Halligan (192 saves)—he anchored a defense that surrendered a paltry 225 goals. Zach Zemliak will likely back up Halligan in the Lion’s cage; both will again benefit from Head Coach John Loughran’s commitment to defense.

Dayne Jagga (29 goals) and Joseph Shaw (23 goals, 33 points) are among a crop of six LMU players who will not be back this season. Newcomers include Joe Cavazos of Jesuit High School, Jack Dunbar of Servite High School, Carter Knutson of St Mary’s High School, Jonny Rimlinger of Newport Harbor High School and Zander Zemliak of Agoura High School—who will hope to be in the water with older brother Zach.

Key Match-Up: Thursday, November 7, UC Davis, Los Angeles, CA

cal-baptistCal Baptist (#16T) will start its season on the East Coast at the Bruno Classic—an ideal way for an up-and-coming West Coast program to get off to a fast start. Upset losses to Air Force and Santa Clara in the 2018 WWPA Championships spoiled what was an impressive season for the Lancers, who beat UC Irvine, UC San Diego and George Washington on their way to a 22-12 record and a #12 ranking in October—the program’s highest ever.

For the first time ever, Cal Baptist will finish their season at home as they will host the 2019 WWPA Championships.

Leading the team’s success were Dominich Nevarez (77 goals, 46 assists; First Team All-WWPA), Zach Lowery (37 goals, 62 assists, 55 steals), Christan Britton (24 goals, 48 assists) and Tommy Lotero (281 saves; First Team All-WWPA). All return for Head Coach Kevin Rosa, who will look to work in freshmen Angel Sanchez of  Santa Margarita, Joseph Griffin of Damien High School, Trent Itow from Valley Christian and Nick Flemington of Redlands East Valley High School.

Key Match-Up: Harvard, Friday, October 25, Santa Clara, CA

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Ford Eldredge of the Bishop’s School, goalie Chase Zamborelli of Valley Christian High School, Dominick Kirk and Nicholas Fotes of Bellarmine College Prep—these should be impact players for a Santa Clara (#RV) squad that battled to a 11-14 record, and was within a handful of goals of reversing a 2-5 record in conference play.

Returning to Head Coach Keith Wilbur’s line up are leading scorers Marc Carey (53 goals, 42 assists) and Shane Hughes (44 goals, 41 assists). Sam Toriggino (28 goals), Dane Estrella (14 goals, 38 assists, 41 steals) and four other players graduated, with a resulting loss of 100 goals.

Goalie Sean Tehaney (165 saves) will return and he’ll have help from senior Kenan Fox and freshman Zamborelli.

Key Match-Up: Cal Baptist, Saturday, October 25, Santa Clara, CA

air-force-logoAir Force (#RV) is now in year two of the Ryan Brown era, and the Falcon faithful have to hope that the returns in 2019 will be better than last year, which produced a 9-18 record, including 3-4 in the WWPA.

[Five Questions for Ryan Brown, New Water Polo Coach at the Air Force Academy]

Brown has brought in ten freshmen, meaning more than half his roster of 31 is underclassmen. Of the returning players, key players include leading scorer Luke Andres (57 goals, 30 assists) as well as Regan Pittman (24 goals, 40 assists, 26 steals) and goalie James Burke (200 saves on 547 shots). In goal Brown can also choose from freshman A.J. Kuypers of Cathedral Catholic as well as Aiden Sandhu and Anthony Tolbert.

Justin Harrison (42 goals) and Edward Smet (38 steals, 55 points) have moved into serving their country; they are two of just four graduates from last year; Brown is betting on the future, and his crop of young players will need to step up, including Dylan Synclair, Bear River High School, Larsen McCarroll of Laguna Beach High School and Bennett Brewer of Novato High School.

[The Harrisons of Huntington Beach: A Battlin’ Water Polo Family]

It’s likely another year before the Falcons fly high again; if they can push up into the top four of the conference, 2019 will be a successful year.

Key Match-Up: Santa Clara, Sunday, November 10, Santa Clara, CA

concordia-logoConcordia is entering its fifth year in the WWPA. and until last year there had been measurable improvement in conference play. The Eagles went from 4-3 in 2017 (12-11 overall) to 1-6 against WWPA foes (5-19 overall). One more season like that and Head Coach Dreason Barry will really feel the heat.

Goalie Cullen Mooers (25 saves in limited action) is Barry’s sole choice to replace Alfredo De La Mora, who graduated last spring. Also returning for their final year in Concordia: Austin Barton (17 goals, 14 assists); Nick Walker (25 goals); Messan Moore (42 goals); leading scorer Patrik Zsiros (43 goals) is entering his junior year at Concordia.

Key Match-Up: Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Saturday, September 14, Claremont, CA

fresno-pacificAfter back-to-back-to-back years of futility in the WWPA, the Sun Birds of Fresno Pacific are another program looking to show marked improvement. FPU hasn’t won a league match since a 12-8 victory over Chapman in 2016.

Head Coach Bryan Suhovy has a healthy mix of newcomers and experienced players, including six seniors, led by goalie Joshua Ramage (237 saves; .512 save percentage). What he doesn’t have are a total of 116 goals lost to the graduation of Lazar Raca (30 goals, 30 assists), Kyle Eoff (32 goals), Richard Szepesi (28 goals, 48 points), Taylor Heckathorn (26 goals, 14 assists).

Returners include: leading scorer Jacob Farichild (38 goals, 24 assists, 40 assists) and Uros Pelemis (27 goals, 13 assists). Of the newcomers on the FPU roster, Curtis Vidinoff of Clovis North High School, Zach Zetz of Buchanan High School and William Green of Alta Loma High School are noteworthy.

Key Match-Up: Concordia, Saturday, October 19, Clovis, CA