Sept. 22, 2000
BERKELEY, CA - The 2000 California men's water polo team, ranked No. 2 in the Collegiate Top 20 preseason poll, is looking to get back into the NCAA Championship for the first time since 1995. With the combination of a large number of experienced players and a group of talented underclassmen, the Golden Bears are more than capable of reaching the NCAA Final Four.
"We finished strong at the end of last season and I think that puts us in the right direction entering this year," said head coach Peter Asch, whose Bears squad finished the 1999 campaign ranked third in the nation. "Not only did we finish strong last season, but we were very tough against the top teams."
Again, Cal is going to need to be tough against the top teams because the Bears represent one of about five schools that have a legitimate chance of winning the NCAAs, and there is little margin for error when it comes to qualifying for the national championship. Cal is either going to have to win the MPSF Tournament, or be the No. 1 ranked team in the nation in November to have a chance to win the school's 12th NCAA crown.
A top returner for Cal will no doubt be senior two-meter man Jerry Smith, who was the Bears leading scorer last season with 48 points and earned first team All-America, first team Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and first team All-MPSF Tournament. Smith has scored over 90 goals in his college career and has shown the ability to be perform well in the big matches. Last year he scored four goals in the Bears 10-6 upset of Stanford in the Big Splash to help win the inaugural Steve Heaston Cup, and tallied four goals against both UCLA and Pacific in the MPSF Tournament.
Other key returnees who earned accolades last season include senior driver Eldad Hazor and junior two-meter man Spencer Dornin, who were both named honorable mention All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Hazor was second on the team in scoring in 1999 with 30 points, while Dornin added 15 points. Hazor, from Tivon, Israel, is one of collegiate water polo's top outside shooters and has scored over 75 points for the Bears in his career. Dornin, a 6-5 left-hander who continues to improve, will help Cal both offensively and defensively at two-meters.
Three more top returners for the Bears include junior two-meter man Mike West, and junior drivers Joe Kaiser and Rob Arroyo. Cal will be depending on the scoring and two-meter defense of West, who has emerged as a top collegiate water polo player with outstanding size (6-5) and a strong outside shot. Kaiser is a talented scorer who was fourth on the team last season with 26 goals, while Arroyo added 16 points in 1999. All three players have seen plenty of action in their college careers and will again be counted on for leadership and scoring punch.
One of the Bears strength this season will be their depth, and that is where seniors James Lathrop, Adam Metzger and Eric Johnson step in. The three veterans provide a wealth of experience, are hard working, tough defenders and are sure to be major contributors.
Another key for Cal could be the emergence of talented freshman driver Attila Banhidy from Eger, Hungary. Banhidy already has valuable international experience as a member of the under 18 Hungarian National Team that placed third at the European Championship in 1999. He should immediately help the Bears with his outside shooting and his water polo knowledge. Sophomore Chris Lathrop is yet another young player who could be in the mix as he impressed the Cal coaches with his play this past summer and is one of the fastest swimmers on the team.
A question mark for the Bears will be at goalkeeper as Cal will be utilizing a pair of young goalies to start the 2000 season in sophomore Russell Bernstein and redshirt freshman Tim Kates. Bernstein only saw action in two matches last season and had three saves in 12 minutes of playing time.
"Who will emerge as our new goalie is the big question mark," said Asch. "Both played well this summer, but until the college season comes around, we really won't know how they will perform."
Sophomore Andrew Stoddard and redshirt freshman Will Quist provide two more up-and-coming standouts who should help the Bears. Stoddard scored six goals last season as a redshirt freshman and is one of Cal's fastest swimmers. Quist is a remarkable athlete with an amazing combination of size and speed. He is 6-6, 230 pounds and was a top sprinter on the Bears swim team last season, competing at both the NCAA Championship and the Olympic Trials.
"I think the real strength of our team will be our depth," said Asch. "We start some young guys, but we also have veteran players who come off the bench, so we are able to have experience in the water at all times. We are in good condition, and our counter-attack is a major component of our offense, so we should be able to wear teams out in the third and fourth quarters."