As the season-opening UC San Diego tournament nears, the No. 7 Long Beach State men’s water polo team will look to start their 2013-14 season off as strongly as it ended last November.
Last season the ‘Niners finished fifth in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament with a 24-8 overall record and 4-4 conference record. In retrospect, last season’s finish was a step in the right direction for a team that’s seen its share of hills to climb over the years.
“Prior to last season, we went through a fair amount of challenges, and it was nice to get a little bit of validation as far as results,” head coach Gavin Arroyo said.
With a top-five finish last season and a seventh-place ranking going into fall play, Arroyo and his squad are looking to make their presence known among elite teams like top-ranked Southern California, second-ranked Stanford and strong programs like California and Pacific.
Arroyo, who was named the 2012 MPSF Coach of the Year, has high hopes for his team’s play this season.
“We expect to compete with everybody now and be able to play our game regardless of who we’re playing,” Arroyo said.
For the 49ers, the summertime has seen grueling long hours of practice in anticipation of a season with little room for error.
“The MPSF is a tough conference,” Arroyo said. “You’re exposed immediately, and if you’re exposed in an area, then that can cost you.”
Arroyo’s season-long goal is simple when narrowed down.
“Almost every year it’s about survival and going to the tournament,” Arroyo said. “There was a stretch there where we didn’t make it a couple of years and that was a bad place to be.”
For the 49ers it was about finding success within themselves and then translating that into their play in the pool.
“It’s just a progression of confidence and trying to play to a standard that you adhere to on a daily basis,” Arroyo said.
This season the starting line up will see a few different faces, as senior Nick Rascon will be redshirting, as well as senior Dan Matulis, who is still recovering from shoulder surgery.
The two have contributed a great deal to the 49ers’ success, but Arroyo is confident that key players in his squad will step up and fill their roles.
“We’ve finally gotten to a point where we can redshirt guys and I don’t think we’ve ever had an opportunity to where we can redshirt some of our stronger players,” Arroyo said.
The 49ers will look for standout play from junior Devon Mefford, junior Milos Vrzic and sophomore Nolan McConnell among others.
“I’ve got a lot of smart guys and it’s fun to work with such an intelligent group,” Arroyo said.
When pinpointing one key area on which the ‘Niners must focus this year it most definitely will be on how they will play away from home.
“We have to play Pepperdine, UOP and Irvine away, so if you had to nail it down to one goal it’d be that we have to be able to win on the road,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo and the ‘Niners will undoubtedly find success this season if they’re able to convert on road games and never look past any opponents.
For LBSU’s water polo program as a whole, it’s about reaching that high level of play this year and then being able to maintain it for years to come.
“It’s hard to get there, it’s harder to stay there, but once you’ve reached that success it’s really hard to undo that,” Arroyo said.
LBSU will be thrown into road play right off the bat as it takes on the defending Western Water Polo Association champions Air Force in its first match of the UC San Diego Tournament on Sept. 7.