By Ryan McDonald, Daily Cal Staff Writer
This story was originally published in the Daily Californian on Wednesday, October 10, 2007. Click here for original version.
Reprinted by permission.
For the Cal men's water polo team, the 2006 season began with a question mark at goalie.
It ended with an exclamation point.
Goalie Mark Sheredy, a transfer who redshirted in 2005, finished as MVP of the 2006 NCAA tournament, where the Bears were crowned national champions. His performance featured 12 saves in the final game against USC.
Now, already 101 saves into his senior season, Sheredy joins a lineup stocked with fourth-year talent and intent on living up to the mantle of the Cal water polo tradition.
It's not something he takes lightly.
"He's very intense," says assistant coach Sean Nolan, who worked extensively with Sheredy last season. "He takes pride in not letting you score."
Unlike many players at elite college programs, Sheredy does not come from one of the approximately two-dozen California high schools that produce the majority of top recruits.
He picked up the sport during his freshman year at Archbishop Mitty High and was slated, because of his height, for his future position right from the start.
"I was a goalie before I got into the pool," says Sheredy.
And though Sheredy excelled in the water, Archbishop Mitty is better known for its programs outside the pool, limiting his exposure.
"Our school was culturally ingrained in football," he says.
Heading to West Valley Junior College gave Sheredy the opportunity to shine, as he racked up two state championships and two state MVP awards under the tutelage of long-time coach Bruce Watson, to whom the goalie is eager to give credit.
His success at West Valley caught the eye of the Bears' coaches. But on arriving, he still had a world to learn.
"When I came in, there was a period of transition," says Sheredy of the switch from junior college to Division I water polo. "It was a different level of play."
A new pool and a new set of teammates meant that Sheredy had to establish himself all over again.
From his perch at the end of the pool, Sheredy said that building relationships with the rest of the team has been essential to his success.
"It's cohesion," he says. "You need to trust that the goalie is making the right decision."
Coach Kirk Everist agreed that the defense functions best when the goalie and the field players share a strategy.
"They respond to his direction in the pool," Everist says of Sheredy and his teammates. "They make shots come from where he wants them to so he can be more effective."
In some cases, like counter-attack offense, the way Sheredy and the team work together is fairly straight-forward.
A common target is attacker Zac Monsees.
"Between Zac and I, the relationship is, `I pass, you score,'" Sheredy says of his speedy teammate. "I've never seen anybody catch him."
But at other times, such as coordinating two-meter defense, the symbiosis is a bit more mysterious. Sheredy offered Adam Haley who, with Jeff Tyrrell, is one of the team's main center backs, as a player with whom the link exists, but is not as easy to formalize.
"I have no idea what Haley does, but he does it really well," Sheredy says.
Proving himself as a goalie has been a process for the San Jose native, who earned the starting position midway through last season.
Goalie Marc Vacquier, a high school standout and former member of the U.S. Youth National Team, got the nod at the beginning of the 2006 campaign in what Everist described at the time as "a battle for the spot."
But after Vacquier surrendered 11 goals against Stanford, Sheredy earned the chance to play against top teams in the prestigious SoCal tournament the following weekend.
The difficulty of the competition, combined with the newness of the position, made the tournament a significant moment.
"I was very nervous; it felt like there was a lot of pressure," says Sheredy. "I felt I had to prove myself because the guys were not used to playing with me then."
Although it ended in a 6-5 loss to the then-No. 1 Trojans, the SoCal tournament provided a great start for Sheredy, who recorded 14 saves in the semifinal win over UCLA, and a turning point for the team, which would lose only one more match en route to the national title.
"Everyone accepted the new role," says Sheredy. "I was really stoked on being the new goalie."
Since then, players and coaches say Vacquier has been happy to see Sheredy succeed.
"Marc (Vacquier) is a fantastic person," says Nolan. "He's been a great teammate, really supportive."
Sheredy says that the beginning of that season, with long practices and few playing opportunities, proved trying at times.
But ultimately, he says it has made him more able to help the team succeed.
"I would go through the frustration, the anxiety again," he says. "I know that it made me a better player."