Nov. 11, 2011
By Amy Hughes
It has become traditional for incoming freshmen in this sport to redshirt a year, both to gain strength thanks to a year in a college varsity weight room, and to adjust to the larger playing area, as high school water polo is played at a length of 25 yards while the collegiate game is played over 30 meters (32.7 yards).
"In a lot of cases," said Wright, "incoming kids redshirt just because of the transition. It's not only the physicality of the game, but it's a longer distance and moves at a faster pace."
Neither one of those changes has adversely affected Reynolds.
"I think I knew about halfway through preseason training camp," said Reynolds of when he became aware that he would play this season instead of redshirting. "It was obviously very daunting. It's a whole new world of water polo that I had never experienced. But I was excited. I really wanted to do it."
Reynolds came to UCLA with a solid water polo resume. His older brother, Frank, played water polo at Cal, and his older sister, Grace, completed her final two years of water polo eligibility (2010-11) at UCLA. Paul has spent three years competing for the USA Junior National Team (2008-11), and played in the 2009 Junior World Championships.
"It was a pretty easy decision," said Wright of deciding to play Reynolds instead of having him sit out a redshirt season. "His knowledge of the game and his awareness in the water are very good. Not a lot of people have [that awareness]. His game sense is excellent. That put him in a position to not only play, but play a lot."
Not only has Reynolds played a lot for the top-ranked Bruins, he is fourth on the team in scoring. With 26 goals, including at least one in each of UCLA's last two matches entering Saturday's conference contest at Pepperdine, Reynolds ranks fourth on the team in individual scoring.
That scoring touch, while not Reynolds' focus, has carried over from his days at Foothill High School in Santa Ana, Calif. He led all Orange County area high school players with 160 goals a year ago. But there was no guarantee that the success would continue at the collegiate level.
"For the most part," said Reynolds, "Southern California high school water polo is a pretty high level, but playing Division I water polo at this level, everyone is the best player from their region and everyone is an All-American. You can't really be lazy and get by. You always have to be in tune with what you're doing. In high school, there would be kids who take possessions off, so you can capitalize on that. But here, no one takes possessions off, so it's a lot more difficult."
Wright points to Reynolds' exceptional game sense to explain his quick success with the transition to Division I water polo.
"He's not the biggest guy," said Wright of Reynolds. "He's going to keep getting bigger and stronger, and he already has during his short time here. The smart players know how to utilize what their strengths are. He's very quick and can open up on driving and open up on counter attacks and he uses that to his advantage. He doesn't want to get into a physical wrestling game but he uses his speed.
"One of the biggest things he does for us is his ability to release and read where our 2-meter man is," continued Wright. "He sees everything a couple seconds, two plays ahead of where we really are. I always compare it to chess. You have to be making moves ahead. You can't make one move at a time or you're not planning a good attack. That's really the way Paul sees it. I believe that offsets his physical size. His speed and awareness have given him the ability to put himself in position to score goals and he's a good shooter."
Reynolds is also described as a student-athlete with an exceptional work ethic. A four-year varsity swimmer at Foothill in addition to his water polo career, he is always in the pool and always working to improve his game.
"Water polo careers run pretty short," said Reynolds. "I've come this far in my career. I might as well work hard at it for the next couple of years and try to be the best that I can be. I like to prepare myself as best I can so I'm ready for whatever the situation may be."
Reynolds' transition to the collegiate game was also smoothed by his experience with the U.S. Junior National Team, where he played with several of his current UCLA teammates.
"Playing at a Junior World Championship as one of the younger players on the team was excellent preparation for this level," said Wright. "The Junior National Team plays at the same 30 meters and the same physicality of the game.
Reynolds also points to his Junior National Team experience as a positive one.
"The coaches I had with the junior team were really smart," said Reynolds. "I tried to learn everything I could and absorb as much as possible. It's a really high level and it helped me with my personal game and with coming [to UCLA] because there were five guys from UCLA that were on my junior team."
Despite his individual success to this point in the 2011 water polo season, Reynolds is focused on just one thing, a national championship.
"The only thing I expect from myself is to try to contribute to the team," Reynolds said. "It doesn't matter if I score zero goals and just play good defense. I don't even know where I stand on the goal count. I just want to win NCAAs. Whatever I have to do for my team to win."
The Bruins (18-3, 4-1 MPSF) are currently tied with crosstown rival USC as the nation's top-ranked teams. UCLA will play host to the MPSF Tournament, Thanksgiving weekend, at Spieker Aquatics Center. The 2011 NCAA Tournament will take place in Berkeley, Calif., the first weekend in December.
"He has the chance to be one of the special ones," said Wright. "He's a tremendously hard worker, and he has some God-given ability. Combine that with his thought process, and I'm excited to see how far he can go. He is a pleasure to coach and as his coach I'm very excited to see how far he can go. I really believe he's going to be a special player."