Cruising The Decks - Hungry Like The Wolf

Nov. 6, 2007

Note: "Cruising the Decks" is a weekly column written by Trevor Freeman for CSTV.com. This article orginally ran on CSTV.com Nov. 6, 2007.

It was a weekend where championships were determined. It was a weekend where bubbles were burst. November has finally come and water polo's biggest games are beginning to ensue. Navy and St. Francis punched their tickets to Easterns in the first wave of postseason games. A preseason contender in Bucknell was forced to scramble in order to keep their season alive. Lights have gone out at swimming pools from New York to Virginia. Before we begin breaking down the national scene though, we have a special treat as the Michael Jordan of American water polo stopped by to talk to the Cruise. We begin our voyage on the beaches of Santa Barbara.

Eleven Shots Out Of Set

11. I'm sure everybody who plays or has played water polo knows of UCSB coach Wolf Wigo. Wigo is arguably the greatest player our country has ever produced as he competed in three Olympics and led our country to the 1997 FINA World Championship. He led Team USA in scoring at Sydney and was team captain in Athens. Wigo retired from the national squad after the 2004 Games. Currently in his third season at UC Santa Barbara, he has transformed the Gauchos into a national championship contender.

What has been the biggest challenge of rebuilding UCSB water polo?

The hardest part is to convince the top US players that we can have a first class competitive program that can compete for a National Title year in and year out. My first two years here, that was not the case, but from here on out we will be in a position to play with any team in the country. Once the high school kids see this, I think the school will be very attractive to the top players, due to the location (right on the beach) and the perfect weather.

Of your nine losses, six have been by one-goal. How have you been able to keep your guys confidence up and attitude strong in the face of that?

It is always hard to lose a close game. For me it is better to have lost a close game than to play really bad and lose by more. We have only played one really bad game all year (our third game against LMU). The other games we lost were against very strong teams. We look forward to playing these teams in the conference tournament and winning. The team has done a great job of staying together and our goal is to qualify for NCAA's.

Tell me about how big it was for your program to defeat Stanford last week?

It was a great game for us and anytime you beat a team for the first time in 22 years it is huge for the team morale, the alumni and the fans. For me, really it is a sign of things to come as I see more parity in the years to come and less domination from the traditional top 4 teams. The game means nothing however if we don't play well going forward.

What are your goals for the future of UCSB water polo?

We want to be one of the best programs in the country every year going forward. Along with that, an NCAA title would be very nice - our school has been waiting since 1979, the last time we won.

Does being Wolf Wigo make it easier on the recruiting trail?

It helps to have some name recognition with the recruits, but in the end it is the school and the program that will attract the top players. I think UCSB is the perfect place for a water polo athlete - especially guys who like to surf, dive and enjoy the ocean. Almost all the guys on our team take advantage of the location of our campus.

Any chance of Wolf Wigo pulling a Michael Jordan and coming out of retirement for the 2008 Olympics?

I always try to keep in shape and I still have a tremendous love of the game - I've had a lot of fun playing in the Premier League the last few years as well. I think there are a number of factors however that make it more appealing not to play in the next Olympics, so I don't really see that happening. I wish the team the best of luck.

Just as a note, after conducting my interview with Coach Wigo he continued to take time to speak with me about water polo. As somebody who played in his era and always held him in reverence it was refreshing to see that he is just as good a person as he was a player. Ability may have taken Wolf Wigo to the top but character is what has kept him there.

UCSB only had one game this weekend and it was against the top ranked California Golden Bears. The Gauchos turned in a game effort but were upended 10-8. Zsombor Vincze posted his third consecutive hat trick in the loss.

10. UC Irvine showed this weekend why they will be a dangerous team at the MPSF Tournament. The Anteaters fell off the radar a little bit when Tim Hutten and Colin Mello went down with injury. However, with them back and playing well we saw how good UC Irvine can be. The Anteaters played California to double overtime before losing 11-10 on an Adam Haley goal with 1:15 left. They followed that up by whitewashing Pacific 13-7 on Saturday afternoon. That score does not indicate how big Irvine won that game as they were up 10-3 at the half. Hutten and Mello combined for 12 of Irvine's 23 weekend goals.

9. The schizophrenic Long Beach State 49ers claimed another high-ranked scalp as they defeated Pepperdine 7-5 on Saturday. No team is more of a wild card heading into the MPSF Tournament than this team. I've said it before and I will say it again, the 49ers have an "A" game that rivals the best in the nation.

On the flip side, Pepperdine is in some trouble right now as they dropped to 1-4 in the MPSF. Their three remaining MPSF games are against UC Irvine and UCLA on the road and UCSB at home. The Waves may need to win all three games in order to avoid playing USC or Cal in the first round of the MPSF Tournament.

8. Nice bounceback weekend for Loyola Marymount as they took care of business against Air Force and Chapman. The Lions beat Air Force 11-4 and Chapman 21-3. In the Air Force game, six different Lions scored and against Chapman they had eleven different players find the back of the net. Loyola Marymount plays Long Beach State on Thursday evening in a game that could be very interesting.

7. Up and down weekend for UC Davis as they lost to Stanford 6-4 and then beat Santa Clara 11-6. The Aggies spoiled a great effort by their goalie as Mike McGee had 15 saves in the loss to Stanford. Kudos to UC Davis for keeping their heads up and not blowing it against Santa Clara the following day.

6. We're going to save the top two shots for CWPA's Northern and Southern Championships; however I would be remiss if I did not spend a little time and talk about George Washington making it through to Easterns. Outstanding job by this team and coach to stay focused and keep their heads up as they entered Southerns riding a six-game losing streak and sporting an 8-16 overall record. Senior Chris Whittam played like a senior in the upset over Bucknell which clinched their spot as he made thirteen saves in the 6-4 win.

5. Big time performance by Stanford over the weekend as they beat UC Davis 6-4. The Cardinal held a 6-2 lead going into the fourth quarter before giving up two late scores. Andrew Drake and Sage Wright each scored twice and Sandy Hohener made seven saves. Stanford played amazing team defense in limiting the Aggies to only two goals over the first three periods and four for the game.

4. Easy week for UCLA as they cruised past UC San Diego 14-6 in their only game of the weekend. Nine different Bruins scored in the victory. UCLA has a season defining stretch of games coming up as they play at home against UC Santa Barbara and Pepperdine and on the road against Long Beach State. All three teams have the personnel to trip UCLA up and will be hungry for a victory. The Bruins will be favored in all three games and need to win all three in order to keep themselves in the NCAA Final Four at-large bid discussion.

3. The top-ranked Golden Bears had a strong weekend in Southern California as they held off UC Irvine 11-10 in double-overtime and then beat UCSB 10-8. Michael Sharf was tremendous for California as he notched eight goals on the weekend with five coming in the overtime win over the Anteaters.

2. Navy did what they were supposed to do and that was take care of business in a convincing fashion. The Midshipmen won their third straight CWPA Southern Division Championship with an 11-7 win over Johns Hopkins. Aaron Recko hung seven goals in the Championship game for the Middies.

The biggest excitement was watching Bucknell have to scramble to save their season after the loss to George Washington. The Bison were able to hold off Princeton for the fourth and final spot. It would take stopping Princeton on a 6 on 5 on the final possession of the game to seal it for Bucknell.

It will be interesting to see how Bucknell is seeded by the CWPA committee for Easterns. Bucknell is a team that was arguably playing the best water polo on the East Coast at the beginning of the season. If they want my free advice they should seed Bucknell fifth behind Navy, St. Francis, Brown and Johns Hopkins. I have no problem keeping them ahead of George Washington despite the loss to them at Southerns. This is due to the fact that the Bison beat the Colonials the other two times the teams met this season. I have a problem with underseeding a team based on one game. Harvard and Iona were the other two qualifiers for Easterns. I would seed Harvard sixth, George Washington seventh and Iona eighth. This protects the top two seeds as they would not see a team in their own division in the first round. Plus you set up a fan friendly Harvard-Brown matchup in the first round. When the two teams played at Cambridge earlier this season, it went into sudden death overtime. Why not let the two teams duke it out again in Cambridge with their seasons on the line? Packing the stands is never a bad thing and that is what that game would do in the first round.

1. St. Francis was dominant at Northerns this weekend. The Terriers started off by defeating Connecticut College 34-5. They followed that up by ripping a pretty good Iona team 18-5. In the championship game, St. Francis defeated Brown 14-10. That score does not indicate how big a whitewash the game was. The Terriers were up 9-4 by halftime and 12-6 after three frames. Nemanja Pucarevic scored five goals and Filip Kisdobranski chipped in four. St. Francis is beginning to come together at the right time. Don't be surprised if they knock Navy off at Easterns.

Player to Watch
Chris Whittam, George Washington: The Colonials got through to Easterns primarily because of Whittam's efforts against Bucknell. The senior played out of his skull as he made thirteen saves. From what I was told, four of them were utterly sensational. Nice job by a former high school All-American who has had a brilliant career for George Washington.

Contest To Keep An Eye On
California and USC at Spieker. Enough said. Expect this to be a one-goal game that comes down to the final minute of play. The SCIAC Tournament also takes place this weekend and that is always fun to follow. Redlands and Pomona-Pitzer are the favorites. I would personally be surprised if Redlands didn't bring the championship home.

The Projected Final Four 1. California (MPSF Representative)
2. USC (at-large bid)
3. UC Davis (WWPA Representative)
4. Navy (Eastern Representative)

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