Things For USC May Get Dicey

Nov. 16, 2006

By Trevor Freeman

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Trevor Freeman

Trevor Freeman covers Water Polo for
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It's late November and the smell of turkey is in the air.  However, if you are a water polo fan, the end of November signals more than just a hearty meal at Grandma's house.  It also means berths to the Final Four are waiting to be snatched up.  Last weekend the United States Naval Academy became the first to secure their trip by defeating Princeton 9-6.  For those of you perplexed about not seeing the words "Saint" and "Francis" in that previous sentence, you can feel free to join the club.  The second invitation is up for grabs beginning on Friday as the WWPA kicks off its tournament.  The stakes are high for fifth ranked UC San Diego and seventh ranked Loyola Marymount as both squads have a real shot of getting farther than just the Final Four should they emerge victorious this weekend.  The next week only gets more heated as the MPSF kicks off their tournament on November 24th.  While USC has won 41 games in a row, there's a general feeling out there that things might get dicey for that streak in the MPSF Finals as both California and UCLA will be desperate to win that tournament and gain the automatic Final Four bid.


We begin our look at the two conference tournaments in the WWPA.  Long considered the little sister on the West Coast, there has been a subtle trickle down effect happening.  High school players are realizing that there is a much better chance of getting to the biggest stage in American Water Polo by attending a UC San Diego, Loyola Marymount or UC Davis.  With that being said, let's begin our look with....


The Favorites


UC San Diego:  Denny Harper is the dean of WWPA coaches as this is his 27th campaign with the Tritons.  Denny Harper is like Temple's John Chaney or Florida State's Bobby Bowden in that he built this program from scratch and made it a national contender.  While he probably could have moved on to a bigger and better school, he never did.  There is something to be said for that. 


The 2006 version of the UC San Diego Tritons is among the best he's ever coached as they can be explosive on offense.  They boast two of the nation's top 20 scorers in 2-Meter Ty Lackey and utility player Jesse Casellini.  Complimenting that high-scoring duo is junior Adnan Jerkovic who is the career assist leader at UC San Diego.  Senior Jesse Randall has been solid in the cage all season long as he is ranked 7th nationally with 241 on the season.  The pain of watching Loyola Marymount win the last three seasons will have UC San Diego fired up.  The Tritons have the potential to be great as they gave USC one of its biggest scares of the season (and its 41-game winning streak) in a 10-9 loss at the Southern California Tournament on October 15th.


Loyola Marymount:  Did you see everything I wrote up above?  As good as UC San Diego is, the three-time defending WWPA champion Loyola Marymount can snatch it all away if Ian Elliott brings his "A" game.  Quite simply, Elliott is the best goalie that is not playing in the MPSF.  The Lions played UC San Diego three times this season and lost all three times by one goal.  They also went 3-4 down the stretch which included sloppy losses to teams like Santa Clara and Long Beach State.  Everything looks to be against them making a fourth consecutive trip to the Final Four.  That being said everything was against the St. Louis Cardinals and they won the World Series, so stranger things have happened.


UC Davis:  Marin Catholic versus Drake is one of the finest high school water polo rivalries in Northern California and those two schools represent two of the best players on this roster as Driver Nick Arrigo of Marin Catholic and goalie Mike McGee of Drake lead an Aggie team that is better than their 13-14 record.  Kevin Bacharach, David Welch, and Trevor Long are also very dangerous, experienced players who know how to find the goal.  This team is the Lindsay Lohan of the WWPA.  Sometimes they look good and sometimes they look like they got beat with the ugly stick.   


Rip Van Winkle


Redlands:  I would be very wary of playing this team in the first round.  Picking out a sleeper in water polo is no different than picking a "live" one in the NCAA Tournament.  The best ones are always the teams with gaudy records and the reason for that is simple.  They are used to winning and when you are used to winning you expect to win every game you compete in.  Redlands walks into this tournament boasting a 22-9 regular season record and having won 15 out of their last 17 games.  These weren't over Krispy Kremes as Brown and Harvard were amongst the teams that went down.  Their coach, Tom Whittemore has been around for a long time as well.  If UC Davis brings anything less than their "A" game they could be in for rude exit from the tournament in Round One.


Bold Prediction


They say the fourth time is the charm.....okay maybe they don't but I still think UC San Diego wins the WWPA and gets through to the Final Four.  While Loyola Marymount will be bringing its three-time defending champion swagger, I see the Tritons' hunger prevailing in the championship game. 


The big dog in the water polo park has always been the Mountain Pacific and this year is no exception as they boast the top four teams in the country.  However, many would argue there is a little gap between No. 1 and everybody else as the defending national champion USC Trojans are currently 21-0 and riding a 41-game winning streak.  With the automatic bid up for grabs and many teams in desperate need of it, this will be a wild affair with the leading contenders being......


The Favorites


USC:  If I were going to compare Juan Delgadillo to a famous professional athlete, I would compare him to Tom Brady.  All he does is play bigger when the stakes are higher.  More importantly, he is the heart and soul of the most dominating team in recent NCAA water polo history (and if he isn't added to the 2008 Olympic team, we should launch a Congressional investigation).  USC has been the hunted all season long and yet nobody has been able to deliver the knockout punch on the champs.  This team may be more dangerous than last year's squad as Thomas Hale, J.W. Krumpholz, Jovan Vranes, and Tommy Corcoran join Delgadillo to make for a frightening attack.  Goalie Adam Shilling has been nothing short of spectacular this season and is arguably the best goalie in the country. 


California:  If Delgadillo is Tom Brady then John Mann is Peyton Manning.  For all four years of his college career, he has put up gaudy numbers.  The kind of numbers that Hall of Famers are made of.  That being said, he needs to get the job done in the MPSF tournament so California can qualify for NCAAs and then..........he needs to get the job done there as well.  By doing that he can solidify his status as one of the great collegiate water polo players of the last twenty-five years.  The Golden Bears have the talent to do it as well.  Michael Sharf, Spencer Warden, Jeff Tyrrell, Brian Bacharach, Brian Kinsel, and Andrija Vasiljevic are all big-time players.


UCLA:  The Bruins have to be quietly confident coming into this tournament.  Of their five losses, three of them were to USC.  This includes USC's closest scare to date as the Trojans needed triple overtime to outlast their crosstown rivals on October 21st.  UCLA brings a very balanced offense which is led by fifth-year senior Logan Powell.  The lefty is dangerous from just about everywhere in the pool.  Michael March is back and is playing at a very high level.  He brings championship experience to the table as he was the only non-senior to start all 28 games for UCLA's 2004 national championship team.  Keep an eye on the goalie situation here.  The Bruins have been going with freshman Chay Lapin over senior Will Didinger over the last part of the season.  This is despite the fact Didinger was an honorable-mention All-American last year.  Since I do not attend UCLA water polo practice on a daily basis, I'm not going to criticize that decision.  That being said, you have to wonder if the Bruins wouldn't be better off playing the senior in this kind of big-game atmosphere.


Rip Van Winkle


UC Santa Barbara:  The Gauchos are like Minka Kelly.  Full of potential and very close to being ready for primetime.  I can't see them winning the MPSF tournament, however they are a huge threat to steal their first round game.  Wolf Wigo's young squad has gotten better with each game they have played and that culminated in a 7-6 overtime loss to UCLA on November 12th.  Miles Price is the best player nobody in the country talks about and Ross Sinclair is extremely dangerous.  Junior goalie Rick Wright has really emerged as the brick wall they need on that backline.


Bold Prediction


Chapter 17 Section 46 of Trevor's sports bylaws states that I do not pick against teams that have won 41 consecutive games.  I'm going to hold myself to it and pick USC to repeat as MPSF champions.




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