Water Polo, on the road again this weekend, looks forward to opening new pool soon
Oct. 9, 2008
Story by Dave Lewis
Making ripples on the national scene, the Santa Clara men's water polo team continues to overcome a minor inconvenience during a 12-5 start to springboard a possible run to the NCAA Tournament. The team's pool is going under a multi-million dollar reconstruction.
The Sullivan Aquatics Center will be named in honor of Jack Sullivan `59, whose generous gift made the construction possible. The new pool will be 52- meters by 25-yards, a true Olympic-sized pool. Both the men's and women's water polo teams will be able to play in a regulation size course, while lap swimmers have many more lanes to choose from.
"I am very proud of how this team has played on the road, but I would say it is something our program has gotten used to over the years," said Santa Clara head coach Keith Wilbur of the 12th ranked Broncos. "With our old pool, we would have 2-3 home games a year and we usually play about 30 games a season. The fun thing about this year is that we can all see the new pool getting built each and every day, so we know if everything stays on schedule that we will get a bunch of home games here at the end of the year."
Only the Rolling Stones have been on the road longer but hope is in sight with the new pool nearly finished. The first home game is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 25 against Air Force pending completion.
"I think that has added a lot excitement to the season for us," said Wilbur
The season has already plenty of exciting moments. The current five-game winning streak started with SCU's first win over UC Davis in five years. The weekend of Oct. 3rd and 4th, the Broncos won all four games at the Convergence Tournament, beating Whittier, Claremont, Chapman and Concordia. On Sept. 13, Wilbur returned to New Jersey to lead his team to win over his alma mater Princeton.
"We've been close against those kinds of teams in the past, so I'm not surprised that we beat those teams this year to put us where we are," said Wilbur.
Wilbur felt the combination of returning players, including redshirts and a strong freshmen class, had a chance to gel into a strong unit this year. Redshirt senior Chris Parolin said this is the most talented team he's been on and knew early the group had a chance to do great things.
"I didn't know what to expect but after the East Coast tournament when we had a couple big wins (4-1 record), I really felt the team could be pretty special," said Parolin.
Parolin is one of the leaders on the team who does many of the little things that are only appreciated by coaches and teammates. Wilbur noted Parolin's ability to get teammates the ball in the right place to shoot along with being able to establish position and get an opponent kicked out. The latter creates the equivalent of a hockey power play.
"Those are critical goal scoring opportunities for our team," said Wilbur. "As one of our captains, he's one of the players the guys rally around and is a big part of our success this year."
Taking advantage of his opportunities is redshirt junior Jack Wall from Los Gatos. Wall was named honorable mention All-American as a sophomore and leads the team in scoring 34 goals in 17 games. He's coming off a five-goal effort on Oct. 5th's, 12-6 win over Concordia.
"He can hit his shot from anywhere." said Wilbur. "Very often that will cause teams to press him and that opens up other guys. On top of that, defensively he'll match up with the other team's best perimeter player and shut him down and frustrate him." Wall said his personal goal is to 'do it again' by being named All-American, but echoed the team's mission is to win the WWPA and advance as one of only four teams to the NCAA Tournament. The conference tournament will be held Nov. 21-23 at Claremont.
"The teams that have been ahead of us in conference the last few years have been UC Davis, UC San Diego and LMU," said Wilbur. "We're getting to the point where we know we're capable of beating the top teams in our conference."
Wilbur's confidence is shared by freshman goalie Michael Wishart, who came to camp determined to win the starting job. The coach didn't know where Wishart would fit in, but the newcomer came to the Mission Campus on a mission.
"I trained as hard as I could the past summer to prepare myself for whatever situation I'd be in," said Wishart. "It's just worked out. The players are a lot bigger [than in high school] and the game goes a lot quicker. You have to get used to that pace of play."
Much of the pace and contact is unnoticed by fans. Wall estimates 70 percent of the game is played beneath the surface creating an aqua-Darwinism. Outside the view of officials - almost anything goes and players have the chance to throw cheap shots at opponents.
Parolin removed any ambiguity in describing his most memorable confrontation under water.
"I got my two front teeth knocked out as a junior when a kid pulled me under water and punched me," said Parolin.
The Broncos can expect nothing short of a cage-match atmosphere in a rematch at Davis - with the Aggies wanting to settle the score after losing 10-8 on Sept. 28. The following day is a game at UC Santa Cruz before finally opening the home schedule after 19 straight grueling games on the road. Wilbur's team not only survived the gypsy-like existence, but flourished.
With the new facility there will be no more trips to practice at West Valley College. The Broncos will have their own digs and a chance to show off an outstanding team to its fans in a possible run to the post season. However, the new pool will provide dividends far beyond this season.
"In past years, I have had recruits who told me that we were the top choice in every aspect except for the pool, and now I know that won't be an issue any more," said Wilbur. "Also, the water polo community knows that we are getting a new facility and that has generated more interests from recruits as well. In terms of practice, I simply think we are a better team when we can practice and scrimmage in a regulation course. There will no longer be an adjustment from playing in our pool to playing in somewhere else."