Aug. 28, 2002
The 2002 UCLA men's water polo team will look to a host of young players and a handful of veterans to bring the program back to its fourth-straight NCAA Championship match. The Bruins have said good-bye to All-American two-meter Alfonso Tucay, honorable mention All-American driver Jeff Pflueger and starting driver Jon Puffer, who helped take the team back to the Final Four.
Highlighting the line-up are three-year starter and All-American goalkeeper Brandon Brooks and fellow co-captain center defender Matt Flesher, who will each provide UCLA with veteran knowledge and leadership. Drivers Brett Ormsby and Albert Garcia, center defender Dan Yeidling and center Ted Peck will all return to the pool as key contributors and possible starters.
Eleven other players will come back for another year under Head Coach Adam Krikorian, who will welcome ten incoming freshman to his squad. Two of them could possibly see playing time in the 2002 season.
"We made tremendous strides last year and went a lot further than most expected," stated Krikorian. "Hopefully, being so close to the championship will provide the team with the knowledge to get back to the championship game."
Brooks will return to the net for his senior year, with three All-American accolades under his belt. His single season goals allowed marks of 4.80 in 2000, 5.60 in 1999, and 5.96 last season rank first, second and fifth respectively, in the Bruin recordbooks. He has led the team to a 45-13 record since taking over midway through the 1999 season. As his numbers speak volumes, so does his coach.
"Brandon will be the rock of the team," Krikorian said. "He is the most athletic player I have seen in my ten years in the program. Brandon's athletic ability along with his enormous wing span helped him to become one of the best goalkeepers in the country, if not the best."
Behind Brooks, Joe Axelrad will bring international experience into the net. After last season, Axelrad earned a goalkeeper spot on the US National Team, traveling around the world with the squad.
"Joe is too good of a goalkeeper not to give him some playing time," said Krikorian. "Together, our goalkeepers have a great competiton with each other and push each other. There is a lot of respect there."
The Bruins are young, but talented at the center position, with sophomore Ted Peck and redshirt freshman Garrett Bowlus taking over duties from Tucay. Peck scored 12 goals and appeared in all 21 matches last season. He brings that reserve experience with him as he moves into a starting role.
"Ted has improved tremendously in the past year in his knowledge of the game, his speed, his endurance and his strength," Krikorian said. "All of these things together have combined to make Ted a force as only a sophomore. He has an incredible future ahead of him."
Assisting Peck in the center position will be Bowlus. The Newport Beach native, who was named First-Team Junior Olympic All-American in 2000, will find a good deal of playing time in front of the opponent's net, according to Krikorian.
Co-captain Flesher will return to his starting center defender position this season, boasting 64 career goals, two national championships and three varsity letters as credentials. He was named Third-Team All-American in 2001 and selected as an All-American Honorable Mention as a sophomore.
"Matt is our primary emotional and physical leader. If you talk about fearless, that's Matt," stated Krikorian. "He pushes himself to the limits and pushes the team to places we don't even realize are possible."
Also seeing significant time as the primary defender in front of Brooks will be Yeilding, who has been a role player on the squad for the past two seasons. Last season, he appeared in all 21 matches, including one start and posted eight goals and 13 assists.
"He had an incredible off-season and has grown so much, not only as a player but as a person too," Krikorian said. "He is more of a finesse player and having a 6-4 finesse player is huge for us."
Leading the UCLA attack will be Ormsby and Garcia. Ormsby led the Bruins with 43 goals last season, and started every match. His totals earned him a Second-Team All-America selection and was only the second Bruin to ever be named MPSF Player of the Week twice in a single season.
"Brett has taken off ever since he got here," said Krikorian. "He is one of the best shooters in the country. Brett is a threat, every time he touches the ball it could go into the back of the net."
Garcia, who will also see time as a center defender, was third on the team last season with 24 goals and first with 23 assists. The Long Beach native recorded three hat tricks in 2001 and was named to the All-MPSF Honorable Mention Team.
"Albert has a tremendous amount of speed," Krikorian said. "He will be our leader on the fast break and will create a lot of opportunities for us."
Staying true to the past, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation will prove to be the toughest water polo in the country, boasting eight of the 10 of the top-ranked teams from 2001.
"It's going to be a dogfight, like it is every year, " said Krikorian. "Stanford has to be the favorite with four of their best players returning. After that, it's even. It's going to come down to who wants it more and is willing to work for it. Any two teams can be in the NCAA championship game."
Krikorian looks for the race to close between the Bruins, Cal, UC Irvine, Pepperdine, USC, and Long Beach State. The key could be winning the close games, a feat UCLA has mastered with a 5-0 record in one-goal matches last season.