Success: few words could better describe last season for the Long Beach State men’s water polo team.
The Beach recorded a 24-8 record, its highest win total under head coach Gavin Arroyo.
Success breeds confidence, and it builds programs. It also raises expectations.
The 49ers will have a hard time living up to the new expectations. LBSU will be exposed to several new challenges this year.
After qualifying for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation last year, conference opponents will be gunning for the 49ers to make them prove that their 2012 campaign was not a pipedream.
Some of the challenges remain the same. Five-time defending champion USC remains a monumental test for all who stand in the Trojans’ way. Stanford, California, and UCLA should continue to pace the top half of the MPSF conference.
LBSU finished last season as the fifth-ranked team in the nation, but the schedule has turned and The Beach will have to take to the road for several important games.
The 49ers will play key games against UC Irvine, Pepperdine, and Pacific on the road this year. Arroyo’s squad will likely have to steal at least one of these road contests toqualify for the postseason.
That will be a tall order.
The odds will be against the 49ers to repeat the feats of last year. It was then that LBSU pulled off an upset against No. 5 Cal. The team also recorded its most wins for a single season since 1981, when LBSU went 25-9.
The injury bug bit the 49ers in the offseason. Second team All-American center Dan Matulis will sit out this season after having shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum. Matulis led the team with 69 goals in 2012.
Senior Nick Rascon will follow suit, as he will redshirt in order to play his senior year with Matulis.
Without the senior leadership of Matulis and Rascon, The Beach will be counting on the continuing development of its younger talent.
Junior Devin Mefford will have to give the 49ers an inside presence in the attacking zone.
Nolan McConnell emerged as a rising star as a freshman for LBSU. He finished third on the team with 47 goals last season. McConnell could have a breakout year with more scoring opportunities likely to fall in his direction.
The man between the goal posts could ultimately decide where the chips fall for the 49ers. Junior Balint Meszaros set an LBSU record with 284 saves in his first season with The Beach. The fate of the 49ers may rest as much in his hands as any other player this year.