Sept. 4, 1997
1997 Men's Water Polo Outlook
Team Tries for 12th Title in 1997
The California men's water polo team is hungry to return to the top--the top being the NCAA Championship where the Bears have won more national water polo titles than any school in the nation. But, Cal hasn't won an NCAA title since 1992 and Steve Heaston and his Bear squad feel they are ready to compete for the water polo crown once again.
Cal realizes it will not be an easy task winning the school's 12th NCAA water polo title in 1997, but the Bears have enough talent and experience to make a serious run for the championship. After placing third in the nation in 1993 and '94, and second nationally in '95, Cal slipped last season and did not make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1985. Even though the Bears finished third at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament last year, the nature of going to the NCAAs had changed in 1996, as the national championship had gone from an eight to a four-team tournament format, with only two of those four teams coming from the West Coast. For Cal to qualify, the Bears either had to win the MPSF Tournament, or be the No. 1 ranked team in the nation. This year, Cal would like nothing better that to do both.
"I think water polo might be the hardest team sport to qualify for an NCAA Championship," said Heaston. "Even though we placed second in the nation in 1995, we were a young team with just three upperclassmen. We had to play at such an intense level, it was like we've had to peak for every game the last couple of years. We have had to work so hard that we had a difficult time enjoying our game days. We are now back to having a solid, experienced team with depth in all four classes. We have built a strong foundation and it should be fun testing our system this season. We will be a well-balanced team with strength, size and speed--something we haven't had the past three years."
Cal returns nine players--seniors Brent Albright, Peter Stern and Jeff Moloughney; juniors Peter Kiefer, Ryan Flynn, Brad Kittredge, Phinney Gardner and Pat Cochran; and sophomore Albert Won--who have all been major contributors over the past three seasons, compiling a 56-24 record during that span.
Albright, a 6-6, 220-pound left-hander, is one of the most talented players in the nation at either two-meter, or as an outside shooter. In 1996, he was selected to the U.S. National Team, where he made the final cut for the Olympic Games before being forced out by a fractured vertebra. Albright had an off-year scoring-wise last season after leading the Bears in scoring as a freshman and sophomore, but still earned first team All-America honors for the third year in a row. He was named Co-MVP of the 1995 NCAA Tournament and has now tallied 139 points in his Cal career.
Stern is certain to be a key player for the Bears after being a member of the U.S. National Team this past summer. He has been a valuable performer at Cal since his freshman year and last season scored 21 points and was a third team All-America selection. Stern will once again provide the Bears with outstanding two-meter defense, as well as leading the team with his hard work and dedication.
Moloughney is another senior who will play a huge role in Cal's success. Although he has been plagued with injuries during his career with the Bears and had his second shoulder surgery prior to this season, he has been one of the team's most consistent players. Despite suffering a fractured cheekbone as a freshman and separating his shoulder as a sophomore, Moloughney has scored 41 points as a Bear.
Cal has an extremely talented junior class with Kiefer, Flynn, Kittredge, Gardner and Cochran leading the way. Kiefer has established himself as a fine collegiate goalie and had 165 saves last season, including 18 saves in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament. Flynn, a 6-7 left-hander, continues to improve and is becoming a force at two-meters, scoring 49 points in two years as a Bear. Kittredge has been a workhouse for Cal and last season was the team's leading scorer with 38 points and was named honorable mention All-American and second team Mountain Pacific Sports Federation. Gardner suffered through an injury plagued sophomore year (breaking his arm Oct. 2 in a non-athletic related accident), yet has great size (6-7) and ability and scored 28 points as a freshman in 1995. Cochran's scoring dropped off last year as a sophomore, but as a freshman he scored 38 points and led the Bears with five, two-point goals, earning NCAA Tournament First Team honors. Cochran also led Cal with four goals in the 9-6 victory over UCLA in the 1995 MPSF championship match.
Albert Won was a pleasant surprise last season as he was a last-minute selection to the traveling squad and went on to have an outstanding year as a true freshman. Won finished third on the team in scoring with 25 goals and in his first collegiate match, knocked in the game-winning score with 2:31 left in sudden-death overtime in the season-opening win (8-7) versus Pacific at the Southern California Tournament. He also knocked in the game-winner with 27 seconds left in the fifth-place match versus UC Irvine (8-7) at the NorCal Tournament.
Other Cal players who should play key roles this season include senior Ramsey Ross, junior Ryan Feaver and sophomores Kyle Nichols and Robert Palmer. Ross is a tough defensive player who will play several minutes as a defensive specialist, and combined with Feaver, Nichols and Palmer, will provide depth for the Bears.