Aug. 30, 2004
LOS ANGELES, Calif. -
Looking to build upon the success of last year's #3 nationally ranked squad, the 2004 UCLA men's water polo team will turn to experience, strength and speed in hopes of attaining its ultimate goal: a national championship. Head Coach Adam Krikorian expects the Bruins to bring last season's second-half intensity to the table as UCLA strives for its first title since 2000.
"We struggled early last year but got progressively better as a team," Krikorian said. "Hopefully our abilities have continued to improve as well as our confidence. By returning every starter from last season, we should begin this season right where we left off in 2003, which was certainly as one of the best teams in the country."
Leading the way for UCLA will be three-time All-American and 2004 Olympian Brett Ormsby. The 6-2 senior attacker, is coming off a season in which he climbed on to UCLA's all-time single season scoring list, as well as being named a finalist for the Peter J. Cutino Award, an honor annually bestowed upon the nation's top water polo athlete. His leadership, coupled with the return of fellow All-Americans defender Michael March and goalie Joseph Axelrad, create a powerful adversary for upcoming opponents.
Between the proven veteran Axelrad and much improved sophomore goalie Will Didinger, the battle for minutes in front of the net should be exciting. Axelrad, an honorable mention All-American and third-team All-MPSF selection in 2003, brings speed and great reactions to the UCLA net while Didinger, who played in just five matches last year, possesses superior athletic ability and a niche for great passing. "Will has improved quite a bit over the course of the year," Krikorian noted. "He and Joe have a good competition going right now, and it's been great for both guys." Krikorian noted that while Didinger, a native of Manhattan Beach, may have the athletic advantage, Axelrad was one of the best goalies in the country last season, posting a 6.04 goals against average in Pac-10 play, good for second in the conference. CENTERS
For the second consecutive season, senior All-MPSF honoree Ted Peck will return as the most experienced and explosive center in the pool for UCLA. After finishing with the second most goals on the team with 28 in 2003, the Irvine native will look to dominate opposing defenses with his power. Sharing time with Peck will be sophomore Grant Zider, who in 16 matches last season netted 13 goals. "Ted can match anyone with his strength and Grant can be very explosive at the center position and be a great offensive threat," Krikorian said. "Those two guys compliment each other very well." Incoming freshman Marco Santos may also provide the Bruinswith more offensive assitance this season. A four-time High School All-American at Miami Beach Senior High, Santos brings championship experience to an already formidable UCLA squad. CENTER DEFENDERS
Unlike last season, the Bruin defense will be much more experienced as March, a junior, returns to lead one of the most dominant defensive groups around. "Michael probably has the best leg strength in the country and could be one of the best defenders in the nation," the head coach said. "He can outmuscle people, and at the same time he's left-handed and has one of the best left-handed shots in the country." Meanwhile, sophomore Chris Pulido, another "crafty" defender, will provide quickness, size and a great vertical game. Pulido may also prove to be a big offensive weapon for UCLA as well, and at 6-6, fellow sophomore Brad Greiner will make it difficult for opponents to gain offensive position. "David Pietch and Matt Jacobs both also have a tremendous amount of speed so they can be effective after they defend in gaining advantages on the counter attack," explained Krikorian. ATTACKERS
Perhaps one of the Bruins' most potent strengths arises at the attacker position, where Ormsby, coming off an appearance in the Athens Summer Olympics, will look to continue the success he has demonstrated in his first three years at UCLA. He and three other seniors, Albert Garcia, Josh Hewko and Peter Belden, will provide the squad with an unmatched presence up front. "Through his hard work and dedication to this sport, Ormsby has become one of the premiere players in the country," Krikorian said. "By playing in the Olympics, he will return with more confidence and experience after playing against the best players in the world." Garcia, returning after sitting out in 2003, brings back his 56 career goals and 46 assists to compliment Hewko and Belden. "Those three are very intelligent players who are really solid in every aspect of the game," Krikorian said. "Along with Brett, Ted and Joe, our seven seniors will provide leadership to this team." Other attackers fighting for pool time are junior John Blanchette and sophomores Logan Powell, Thomas Foley and Tyler Krikorian. All four players will bring a different dimension to the pool for the Bruins. While Blanchette and Krikorian offer a quicker, more creative attack, Powell, a left-hander, and Foley bring an intelligence and vision with the potential of becoming great players.