Oct. 23, 2003
Assistant Sports Editor, The Santa Clara
Despite missing last season while studying abroad, captains Kenny Flanagan-De La Hoz and Daniel Figoni haven't missed a beat. Their leadership, experience, and goal-scoring abilities have helped propel the Santa Clara men's water polo team into the national rankings for the first time since the 1999 season.
In 1999, Flanagan-De La Hoz was still attending Leland High School in San Jose. Although he had never played competitive water polo, Flanagan-De La Hoz improved greatly in each of his seasons at Leland. He was named the team MVP as well as first-team West Catholic League during his senior season.
Flanagan-De La Hoz became the third member of his family to attend Santa Clara. His father, Ken, was a member of the 1962 Bronco baseball team that reached the College World Series.
"Both my dad and my sister are alumni, so I pretty much grew up on this campus," said Flanagan-De La Hoz. "I used to play around in mission gardens when I was a little kid. Just being around this school all of my life had a huge influence on me. "At my high school you were required to play a sport," explained Figoni. "I decided to do swimming for some reason but I didn't really know why. I got involved with water polo originally to help me stay in shape for swimming, but then I realized that I liked water polo much more than swimming so I stuck with it."
Figoni became a standout player for St. Ignatius, claiming first-team all-league honors. Despite his high school success, Figoni had no intentions of playing collegiate water polo until the summer before his freshman year at Santa Clara.
"I didn't really know if I would be able to play in college because I wasn't recruited to play anywhere," said Figoni. "Santa Clara's coach called me up during the summer before I started school, but he didn't even know if he'd have a spot for me on the team. I made the team so it ended up working out great."
Flanagan-De La Hoz and Figoni both found their niche playing the utility position for Santa Clara. Although they play the same position, they have contrasting strengths that compliment each other to perfection.
Flanagan-De La Hoz draws comparisons to a point guard on a basketball team. He plays stifling defense, brings the ball up the pool and sparks the offense by giving his teammates the opportunity to score goals.
"He's the guy that draws opportunities for our team," said Head Coach Keith Wilbur. "He plays great defense, creates steal opportunities, and has the most kick-outs which are vital for transitioning defense to offense."
Figoni added: "Kenny is the backbone of this team. Without Kenny on this team, we would be nothing. He's not the fastest or biggest guy in the water, but he hustles all the time. He's honestly amazing. It's really fun to watch him play."
If Flanagan- De La Hoz is like the point guard of the team, then Figoni definitely resembles a shooting guard. Figoni's long-range scoring capability extends defenses, which often times allows other Broncos to get open for scoring opportunities.
"I knew I had to step it up on offense, but I've been able to become an offensive threat this season because of Figoni," said Flanagan-De La Hoz. "Our opponents focus so much on him that it allows other guys like me to score goals."
Said junior goalkeeper Peter Moore: "They've played on the same team for a long time now, so they always know what each other is going to do. They really play well together."
Both players are performing exceptionally in game situations this season. Figoni currently leads the team in goals, and Flanagan-De La Hoz leads the team in steals and kick-outs. These statistics are indicative of this season's success, but the two captains' greatest contributions have been their leadership abilities in and out of the pool.
"They're both good role models," said freshman defender Kevin Starry. "They're guys that we freshmen look up to. Kenny has been a key player from the scoring aspect, but he's an excellent motivator who gets everyone pumped up before the game. During the games he coaches us up and points stuff out. Daniel's very similar. He coaches us, motivates us, and tries to help us out when we need help."
"Kenny is one of those guys that gives 110 percent effort in everything he does," explained Wilbur. "That attitude and style of play spreads out to the entire team when he's in the water. Outside of the pool, he carries that same work ethic every single time we practice, do weights or run the stadium stairs. The other players really follow his example; he's the ultimate team player.
"Daniel's leadership style is very similar to Kenny's," Wilbur continued. "They're both very good at being teachers in the pool, helping coach up the other guys when I can't be there."
Santa Clara has had a remarkable turnaround from last season's 10-26 record, when both Flanagan-De La Hoz and Figoni were studying abroad. The team suffered greatly from their absence, lacking experience, depth and leadership.
"I think one of the contributing factors for last season was that Kenny and I were both gone," said Figoni. "That really hurt our team."
"Last year we didn't have the same talent level and depth without them here," added Wilbur. "We really missed that senior leadership. Everyone who was on the team last year has come back better. Having Daniel and Kenny back this year has been incredible for the team."
Both utility men are ecstatic to have the opportunity to play for Wilbur, who is in his second year as the head coach of the program.
"Coach Wilbur has been huge for us this year," said Flanagan-De La Hoz. "He's done an excellent job with recruiting, but more importantly, he's given us a lot of confidence and helped to develop our skills."
Added Figoni: "I am honestly amazed at what Coach Wilbur has done for our team. If he needs something, I feel like he can come to me and ask for my input. I really like his style of coaching."
The mix of Wilbur's coaching and the return of Figoni and Flanagan-De La Hoz has sparked Santa Clara to success in 2003. The team is currently ranked 17th in the nation with an overall record of 14-9 on the season.
"It's the first time that we've been ranked since I've been here," said Flanagan De La Hoz. "When we saw that we were ranked it was the coolest feeling."
Said Figoni: "It just seems like we've gotten a big goal whenever we've needed one. We just give it our all in every game we play, and good things have happened."