After a six-game improvement in 2007, head coach Gavin Arroyo and the rest of the Long Beach State men’s water polo team will look to top last year’s 17-11 mark in the upcoming season.
Having lost many close games last season — seven of which were by one goal — the 49ers will try to learn from those games.
“The team from last year made great strides as far as being a competitive team,” Arroyo said. “We lost seven games by one goal, including a one-goal loss to Southern California at USC. Aside from the result, we established the program to a point where we could compete with anyone. This is huge from a psychological standpoint.”
Expectations for this team are becoming greater, he added.
“[Last season] we were a team which didn’t reach its potential,” Arroyo said. “However, we did progressively improve throughout the season. Expectations are high this season.”
The players share their coach’s vision.
“We would like to make a big push for the NCAA tournament,” senior Ash Blythen said.
With only three underclassmen, including newly added freshman Jordan Koeppen — brother of redshirt junior Justin Koeppen, who had 32 goals in 32 games last season — the 49ers will be a well-experienced team.
Led by returning seniors Blythen, Mike Del Grande, Pavle Filipovic, Jake Kinne and Kevin vanHaaster, the 49ers will have a solid core of veteran leadership. Kinne had an excellent season from a goal standpoint in 2007, scoring 39 goals in 32 games from the center/defenseman position. Blythen added 26 goals in 24 games.
Aside from the seniors, LBSU also has leading scorer Jeff Greenwood, who tallied 49 goals in 42 games in his sophomore season last year.
Not only do the 49ers have the leadership and scoring threats, Arroyo believes that the entire team — whether starter or bench player — will ultimately have an impact.
“We have always been a unit,” he said. “I expect our bench players to contribute. Our strength comes in our ability to be dangerous from everywhere.”
One major change that the team will undergo this season is the face of a new regular starting goalkeeper. Junior Derek Wiebe-Bailey takes over the post after the departure of former senior goalkeeper, Steve MacKenzie. Wiebe-Bailey recorded a 4.29 goals allowed per game average in seven games.
The competition in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation is going to be formidable to say the very least, as they will be facing teams that had great records last season, such as Cal (28-4), UCLA (21-7) and USC (19-3).
According to Justin Koeppen, “Every team is good. No one should be underestimated.”
Coach Arroyo has a similar view of things, as he reiterated: “It could be the most competitive year in recent times. Everyone is competitive and there is much more depth in the sport as a whole. I do not see many blowout games, so we must do a good job at finishing games.”
The conference is once again chock-full of difficult competition as the team will be facing the “big four” of USC (Sept. 13 and Oct. 18), UCLA (Oct. 4), Stanford (Oct. 25) and Cal (Nov. 15) throughout the course of their schedule.
“Our conference will be tremendously competitive this upcoming season. The big four are always strong and will continue to be so,” Arroyo said.
Even with these powerhouse teams on the schedule, confidence and certain expectations remain within the coaching staff and team.
“We expect to compete with class, intensity and passion,” Arroyo said. “Can we compete with everyone? Yes.”
The 49ers open their season at the UC San Diego Triton Invitational in La Jolla Sept. 6.