Sept. 2, 2003
The UCLA Men's Water Polo team, which was ranked fourth at the end of the 2002 season, will open up its season at Pepperdine this weekend. The Bruins will face-off with USC and Pepperdine in a pair of exhibition matches. UCLA will take on the Trojans in an 11:00 a.m. scrimmage before facing the host Waves at noon.
With three returning starters from a team that finished third in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, the 2003 UCLA men's water polo team is primed for MPSF dominance. Despite losing four-time All-American goalkeeper Brandon Brooks, two-time All-American Matt Flesher and starting center defender Dan Yeilding, UCLA head coach Adam Krikorian has put together a promising young group of talent in the pool this season.
The Bruins return first-team All-American and U.S. National Team member Brett Ormsby, All-MPSF honoree center Ted Peck and former MPSF Player of the Week Michael March along with seven other letterwinners from the 2002 season. Junior drivers Peter Belden and Josh Hewko will return to the water for UCLA after successful seasons in 2002, while Joe Axelrad takes over for Brooks in the cage after training with the U.S. National Team in the summer of 2002.
UCLA also brings in a strong recruiting class with eight newcomers set to join the Bruin ranks. The freshman class boasts two former CIF Players of the Year, three All-Americans, and a set of identical twins.
Taking over for Brooks in the goal will be Axelrad, who has seen limited playing time for the Bruins in the last two years, but whose talent exceeds his experience. He has allowed only nine goals in 46 minutes of action, for a 5.48 goals allowed average.
"Joe has a tremendous amount of talent and ability in the cage to lead our defense," said Krikorian. "He will undoubtedly be one of the top goalkeepers in the country this year."
Redshirt freshman Will Didinger will back-up Axelrad in the goal. The Manhattan Beach native was a two-time high school All-American and recorded a school record 431 saves in his junior season.
Returning to the physically demanding center position will be the All-MPSF honoree Peck, who finished second on the team with 32 goals last season. The Irvine native was a mainstay in the pool for UCLA, starting every match of 2002. One of three returning starters, Peck will be looked on to guide a young Bruin team.
"Ted will be the anchor of our offense and everything will be centered around him," Krikorian said. "He has a very strong work ethic and the two years experience under his belt that will help him to excel in all areas of the games."
"Both Zider and Krikorian have shown flashes of brilliance in the offseason," stated the head coach. "They will help to provide us with a solid 1-2-3 punch at the center position."
A group of young center defenders will take to the pool for the Bruins in 2003, with two sophomores and two freshmen taking over for the departed Flesher and Yeilding.
The sophomore March started 21 of UCLA's 23 matches last season and is the most experienced of the core. He posted 17 goals in his freshman campaign, which ranked third on the squad.
"March has really improved his level of fitness and swimming ability to become a well-rounded player. He has tremendous leg strength that will cause fits for opposing centers, " Krikorian said. "He is also very effective on the perimeter with his great left-handed ball fake and shot."
Fellow sophomore David Pietsch and redshirt freshman Brad Greiner will move into the center defender rotation. Pietsch appeared in one match and scored a goal for the Bruins last season. Greiner, who at 6-6 is one of the tallest members of the team, will wreck havoc on opponents with his enormous wing span.
"David and Brad are our workhorses on the defensive side," Krikorian said. "They are our most improved players over the course of the offseason, as they are both very quick and can create a lot of opportunities for us on the counterattack."
Another redshirt freshman, Chris Pulido will also see time at the center defender position. Pulido, who traveled with the U.S. Junior National Team this summer, will provide another perimeter threat for UCLA.
"Chris will provide us with depth at this position," said Krikorian. "He will be able to display his creative talents on the offensive side of the ball."
The most experienced position for the Bruins this season is at driver, with Ormsby, Hewko and Belden all returning for 2003. Along with the set of experienced returners, a junior, a sophomore and two freshmen will provide depth at this position.
Ormsby, who earned gold at the Pan American games this summer with the U.S. National Team, returns after leading the 2002 Bruins with 58 goals. The El Cajon native also led UCLA with 20 assists and 16 steals last season while picking up first-team All-America honors.
"Brett is one of the premier outside shooters in the world and has become a complete player that is breaking through on the international scene," said Krikorian. "He will have another great year after all of his experience this summer on the U.S. National Team."
Juniors Belden and Hewko bring a combined 28 career goals to the pool for UCLA. Belden appeared in 19 matches for UCLA in 2003, while Hewko saw time in 20 contests.
"Both Josh and Pete take a lot of pride in the way they play defense and both can create many opportunities for us on the counterattack" said Krikorian. "They are both intelligent players and do many of the little things that go unnoticed, but are necessary for teams to be successful."
"Each of these young men will see opportunities for us this year," Krikorian said. "We will rely on each of them to provide depth for us at the driver position."