Sept. 6, 2009
For the men's water polo team, the arrival of the 2009 season is highlighted by a new head coach, new home pool and the influx of its largest recruiting class in recent history.
New to his position, but not to UCLA water polo, is first-year head coach Adam Wright. A four-year UCLA letterwinner and two-time Olympian, Wright joins longtime Bruins' head coach Adam Krikorian on the coaching deck this fall. Krikorian became the USA Women's Water Polo Senior National Team Head Coach in the offseason and will remain on the men's staff as Associate Head Coach.
Wright and his team will open their home slate this fall playing in Spieker Aquatics Center, a state-of-the-art facility that UCLA's water polo, swimming and diving programs will call home. Made possible by a generous lead gift from former UCLA student-athlete Tod Spieker and his wife, Catherine, Spieker Aquatics Center will continue to carry on the Bruins' proud water polo tradition.
Yet the focus of the 2009 season will remain squarely on the development of the team. A key returning nucleus of five seniors, four juniors and four sophomores look to welcome a group of 19 newcomers - 17 freshmen and two juniors (transfer).
Among the most pivotal returners in 2009 include senior goalkeeper Chay Lapin, senior attacker Scott Davidson and junior attacker Ben Hohl. For UCLA to excel and earn its first postseason berth since 2004, Wright and company know that the team's most experienced players will be leaned on heavily to lead the way.
Lapin, a three-time second-team All-MPSF selection, will once again command UCLA's defense in the cage. He started in 23 of the Bruins' 28 contests one year ago, posting a 6.35 goals against average while collecting 206 saves. After having undergone hip surgery in the offseason, Lapin has battled his way back to the pool and looks to cap a fantastic UCLA career in 2009.
"He sets the tone for our defense, and we are depending upon him to have a really big year for us," Wright said. "We have changed our style somewhat, and we will have some younger guys out in the water. So we need him to be the backbone of our defense."
Davidson will be looked to lead an offense that returns over 72 percent of its scoring production from one year ago. The resident of Seal Beach, Calif., has shined each of the past three seasons, scoring over 22 goals as a freshman (2006), a team-leading 49 goals as a sophomore (2007) and 34 goals as a junior (2008). A dynamic scoring threat and skilled defender, Davidson can certainly help provide UCLA's offense with a steady scoring threat.
"Scott's going to need to be that constant rock for us," Wright said. "I really believe he can be one of the best players in the conference. He is a very smart and intelligent young man who has great instincts for this game."
Hohl provides UCLA with its only left-handed threat in 2009. A key contributor as a freshman and sophomore, Hohl will be counted upon as a premier threat on offense and, in particular, on counter-attacks. The 6-foot-5 product from Atherton, Calif., has played in all 52 matches in two seasons, scoring 27 goals as a freshman (2007) and 33 goals as a sophomore (2008).
"We look for Ben to help quarterback our team in 6-on-5 situations," Wright said. "He has picked up a ton of experience the last two seasons and had some really big games as a sophomore. We expect even more out of Ben this season and know that he's up for the challenge."
Seniors Scott Swanson and Tyler Jemmett will be relied upon as other key attackers around UCLA's perimeter. Swanson has played in 71 matches the past three seasons, totaling 40 goals, 26 steals and 14 assists. Swanson scored 18 goals as a sophomore (2007) and junior (2008) and will be looked to step up as one of the team's senior leaders.
"Scott is a guy who is always working hard," Wright said. "He has established himself as a great communicator, and we're really going to rely on him on the defensive end. He's also a player who can help us pick up some goals on the counter-attack."
Like Swanson, Jemmett brings three years of experience to the table and should be a contributor on the Bruins' perimeter. He has played in 59 career matches - including all 52 games the last two seasons - and has netted 34 career goals in 93 attempts.
"Tyler can really help us on the 6-on-5," Wright said. "He has developed into one of this team's best spot shooters."
The Bruins are encouraged about the return of Clinton Jorth, who played in eight games as a true freshman in 2008 before sustaining a season-ending arm injury. A highly-touted product of Newport Harbor High School, Jorth saw his freshman season abruptly halted before earning a medical redshirt. The 6-foot attacker is expected to contribute significantly as a redshirt freshman in 2009.
"Losing Clinton one year ago really hurt that team," Wright said. "Without question, he is one of our smartest players. He has great vision of the game, both on the offensive and defensive ends. He's one of our best all-around defenders, and we are all thrilled to have him back at full speed."
A healthy Clinton Jorth will be reunited in the water with his older brother, junior attacker Clay Jorth. The past two seasons, Clay has played in all 52 games (four starts), collecting 24 goals on 59 attempts. With two years experience under his belt, Clay looks to continue making solid contributions in his junior campaign.
"Clay also has great vision on offense," Wright said. "Having been in our system for three years and having played the past two, he's certainly a guy who will be looked upon to help mentor some of our younger guys. Clay will continue to be an asset for us, especially on the offensive end."
Sophomore attacker Cullen Hennessy had a productive freshman campaign last fall, collecting 14 goals and 14 steals in all 24 matches. An Academic All-America selection one year ago, Hennessy gained attention in the pool for his speed in addition to his offensive game.
"Cullen got a ton of great experience last year, and we believe that he will be a serious contributor for us this fall," Wright said. "He can guard two-meters and match up on the perimeter against another team's top offensive weapon. One can't help but notice that he's extremely fast and dangerous on the counter-attack."
UCLA will rely on junior center Jacob Murphy to lead the Bruins at the two-meter position. The native of Corona del Mar, Calif., had a fantastic sophomore campaign before spending the summer of 2009 representing the United States at the World University Games in Belgrade, Serbia. Murphy logged 21 goals and 12 blocks last fall and will be counted upon for even more production this season.
"Jacob's experiences playing at the World University Games will not only be great for him, but will also be beneficial on our team this year," Wright said. "He's a big, strong kid who will definitely be one of our team's primary two-meter men. We're going to rely on him for significant minutes each game."
Working down low with Murphy will be senior Cole Consani and sophomore Brett Hays, two players who gained considerable experience at the position in 2008. Consani added eight goals in limited playing time, and Hays netted four goals as a freshman.
"Cole and Brett have both come a long ways and have gotten a lot better," Wright said. "We'll look for those three guys - Jacob, Cole and Brett - to help our team at the center position."
Defensively, the Bruins are encouraged by the addition of junior Emilio Vieira, who excelled the past two seasons at Golden West Junior College. Vieira earned California State Most Valuable Player honors as a sophomore in 2008, in addition to being named the Orange Empire and Southern California MVP. He helped lead Golden West to the 2008 JC State Championship with a 33-2 overall record.
"We didn't know too much about him, and he has turned out to be an unbelievable surprise," Wright said. "He is a tremendous two-meter guard who is very physical. Emilio is a great communicator who demands people's attention on the defensive side. He has great knowledge of the game."
Also assisting on the defensive end will be sophomore Matt Preciado, who gained experience last season competing at the two-meter position. Preciado registered 10 goals in 24 matches and looks to make the transition to the guard spot.
"Matt has done a great job with the adjustment, and I definitely believe that he will be a plus over there on defense," Wright said. "He can continue to help us at the two-meter position, but we feel he can be a very strong defender for this team."
Last winter, Wright played a crucial role in helping secure UCLA's largest recruiting class in over a decade. Highlighted by CIF Southern Section Player of the Year selections Griffin White (Division I) and Josh Samuels (Division II) and three-time All-Illinois honoree Chris Wendt, the Bruins' freshmen class is expected to make an impact from day one. Samuels, Wendt and White spent August 2009 playing for the USA Junior National Team at the World Championships in Croatia before arriving at UCLA for the freshmen campaigns.
UCLA's schedule is once again lined with weekend tournaments in addition to eight MPSF contests. After kicking off the season at the Princeton Invitational (Sept. 11-13), the Bruins will head to Stanford for the annual NorCal Tournament (Sept. 19-20). All eyes will be upon Spieker Aquatics Center when the new facility hosts its first UCLA athletics event, a non-conference tilt against UC Irvine the evening of Saturday, Sept. 26.
Following a road trip to play at Stanford and Santa Clara (Oct. 3-4), UCLA heads to UC Irvine for the annual SoCal Tournament (Oct. 10-11). From there, the Bruins conclude their MPSF slate in addition to facing Loyola Marymount and Chapman in non-conference matches. UCLA closes its regular season with back-to-back MPSF matches at home against USC (Nov. 7) and UC Santa Barbara (Nov. 15).
"From a team perspective, we will have to grow throughout the year," Wright said. "Heading into Princeton and the NorCal Tournament, we haven't had that much time to play with each other. I want our guys getting a lot of reps with each other because by the time we hit MPSF competition, there is no margin for error."