by Dianna White
SANTA CLARA, CALIF. - Bronco rising senior Brett Zylstra is prepared to make his final season on the Santa Clara water polo team a memorable one. Although the team has fallen short in previous years, Zylstra believes it is possible to win the WWPA and earn a birth of the NCAA tournament.
Last season, although the team did not reach their goal of winning the WWPA championship, Zylstra believes that the overall season was a success. "As a team we posted some awesome victories, especially our victories against Pepperdine and UC San Diego. Pepperdine is a traditional top six program, so beating them was a tremendous accomplishment," reflected Zylstra. "We beat UC San Diego in our last game of the season in the WWPA tournament in front of our home crowd. This was a great win for both the seniors and our coach as this was our first win against UCSD in at least 15 years."
The team has been improving every year, and Zylstra has confidence that this is the year for these goals to be reached. To achieve these goals, Zylstra is prepared to step up his level of play. "As an individual, my goal is simply to be the best water polo player I can be for my senior season," said Zylstra. "I have a limited window of water polo left and I want to finish my career at SCU knowing that I ended as the best player I could be."
Zylstra plans to use his strength and energy in the water to secure wins for the Broncos. "I always try to be a threat with the ball, whether it means taking the right shot or making the right pass," said Zylstra. "I want to always keep the goalie and defense on their toes while I have the ball."
Zylstra plans to build upon these strengths by facilitating the offense with his shots and passes, as well as providing overall energy and a 'spark' in the water.
The team is practicing two and a half hours a day four times a week, plus tournaments almost every weekend. This practice schedule is the most excruciating this program has had to date, but the advantage is all of the exposure that the group getting against top tier teams.
All this practice is good for Zylstra, who has some catching up to do after studying abroad in Madrid, Spain. "I am working especially hard to catch up on the six months of practice that I missed," said Zylstra. "I am working on improving my speed and defensive abilities. We are going to have to be a quick, explosive team next year so the faster I am the better. We lost some defensive seniors last year so everyone is going to have to work hard on the defensive end."
Although the team lost a strong group of seniors, there are still quite a few players left willing to step up to the challenge. "I'm excited to see how Patrick Weiss, Theo Nasser and Tucker Carlson step into the roles of big men on our team," said Zylstra of his teammates. "We have one of the hardest working goalies I have ever seen in Michael Wishart providing us a great example of what it takes to be great. Marcus Akerland, James Case and Daley Meistrell all have tremendous speed and push each other to be faster every day in practice, so overall I think that our transition to a different identity will be rather smooth."
As a senior and a leader on the team, Zylstra hopes to give insight and advice to the underclassmen. "When I was an underclassman, I remember that I was lost in the speed of the game," admitted Zylstra. "I want to help the incoming freshman and sophomores to understand the game at the collegiate level and not be lost like I was. I feel that once you start understanding the game better, the game slows down and you can make better decisions in the pool."
"We are on the cusp of being an elite team as opposed to a solid team, and to make that jump we are going to have to eliminate as many mistakes as possible as well as capitalizing on the mistakes of our opponents," said Zylstra. "Many important games are decided by 2 goals or less, so we can't afford to make silly mistakes that can cost us a goal or two. The fewer mistakes we make, the greater the chance we have of winning."