Five Questions with Cal Water Polo’s Luca Cupido

Luca Cupido. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Haynes/KLC fotos

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

With his brilliant career in Berkeley ended earlier this month by a 12-11 NCAA semifinal loss to USC, Luca Cupido is ready for new experiences. The Italian native still has one more semester before graduating with the University of California’s class of 2018. But he’s already preparing for a future playing professionally in Europe and will continue to represent the United States in international competition including—he hopes—a second Olympic appearance as a member of Team USA, at the 2020 Tokyo Games.

In his final season, Cupido is racking up accolades as the best collegiate player in America. He collected 58 goals—part of a career total of 173—which earned him recognition as the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s 2017 Player of the Year. He has also been nominated for the 2018 Peter J. Cutino award—given annually to the outstanding female and male U.S. collegiate water polo players— and was just named the 2017 Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC) Player of the Year.

Swimming World spoke recently with Cupido about about his current and future plans.

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Cupido at 2016 Rio Olympics. Photo Courtesy: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

– What’s next for your career? Is Pro Recco or another European professional club in your future?

My plan is to practice here until I finish school and then evaluate the different options and see what’s the best fit. The idea is to play and try to get an internship if I go back [to Italy]. Whichever team’s going to give me the opportunity to combine those two things is going to have a higher chance of signing me to play for them.

– Reflect on your four years playing for the Golden Bears, including winning a national title in 2016.

When you first get here you don’t realize how important it is to win, especially for this program. In my second year, once I realized that Cal wasn’t going to NCAAs for five or six years, that was my goal, especially then. I want to achieve something personally, like going to the Olympics, and something as a team here.

It was a great experience. Ending with the [Golden Bear] banquet and knowing these guys—who I played with coming in as a freshman—are probably going to be done with water polo. That’s weird for me especially because I’m going to keep playing. I intend to be involved with all the guys but for some of my friends to be done, that’s an interesting scenario.

– You were nominated for a Peter J. Cutino award, given annually to the nation’s top player. How important is this honor to you and as recognition for what Cal accomplished this year?

As a team we unfortunately came up short. That’s now two NCAA [tournaments] where we struggled to finish a game with our full roster and this year we weren’t able to finish up with a win. Individually it’s great. It’s awesome to be recognized even if you didn’t win. All the other guys on the team they put in hard work.

In sports you may not always win but that doesn’t mean you’re not one of the best. Sometimes people recognize players when they score, and this year I scored a bit more than usual.

I don’t think my game changed. I was always a distributor, a very smart passer and defender. Perhaps a couple of goal more made a difference. It’s great that [the selectors] recognize that but it’s also limited.

– What are your plans for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team? It’s always an honor to represent your country but you have two nations—America and Italy—that you might represent.

Once I made my decision I’m happy where I’m at and I’m going to stay with it. I’ll pursue the next Olympics and [to] play for the United States. We need to qualify first in 2019, and then go from there. I’m very happy with my first decision; I have no reason to go back now.

– I’m sure winning a national championship is one of the biggest thrills of your time at Cal but what other memories will you cherish from playing polo in Berkeley.

The Stanford game [a 10-9 Cal win last month in the MPSF tournament] was meaningful, especially coming back from those two-three weeks when I was out and didn’t know if I would compete again for the rest of the year. It was almost like a movie; I came back and I scored two important goals. It’s a great memory; unfortunately we couldn’t finish with NCAAs but I’m still proud of how we came together and tried our best. That’s all you can ask.

For sure, the Stanford game was important for me. Also the USC one, even though I didn’t play [a 6-3 Cal win]. To have my family there and try to impact a game without playing was interesting.

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Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Haynes/KLC fotos

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Author: Michael Randazzo

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Michael Randazzo is a freelance contributor at Swimming World focusing on water polo. He covers polo all over the United States for SW and other publications, including the Collegiate Water Polo Association, Skip Shot, The New York Times, Total Water Polo, Water Polo Planet and others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and roots for St. Francis Brooklyn polo.

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