After missing out on an NCAA tournament run last season, the Long Beach State men’s water polo team dives into the 2018 season with a talented freshman class and experienced returners looking to win the Golden Coast Conference title.
No. 6 Long Beach (3-1) kicked off its season in the Triton Invitational Sept. 1 and Sept. 2 at UC San Diego. The team has participated in the tournament every year for the past five years, and went 3-1 this time around.
The 49ers beat Cal Baptist 16-9 and Chapman University 11-8 Saturday and continued to play strong on the second day of the tournament, where they narrowly beat UC Irvine 9-8, but fell short to UC Santa Barbara 11-10.
In the GCC preseason poll, the team was predicted to finish second in the conference this year after going 3-2 in conference play the last two seasons.
“It’s the opening weekend, so everybody is pretty excited to get going,” head coach Gavin Arroyo said. “We have a long off-season, but we get to train as a club over the summer and it’s almost like we’ve been waiting seven months to unveil ourselves.”
The team is predominately freshman and experienced seniors, which gives the team a unique makeup. During the opening weeks of the season, the team will look to blend new and old talent into a cohesive unit.
“We have a lot of new guys and new faces we are trying to integrate in a short time period, so that considering, we are trying to see where we are at and get our feet wet if you will,” Arroyo said.
“We have a lot of seniors, so we have a lot of experience,” Arroyo said. “We are kind of top heavy and bottom heavy with strong seniors and strong freshman, so we are looking for our seniors to help us with that experience in terms of composure.”
The team has seasoned athletes such as junior attacker Austin Stewart who had 52 goals, 12 assists and 64 points in the 2017 season, junior attacker Nemanja Bakic who had 40 goals, 6 assists and 46 points last season and sophomore goalie Marwan Darwish who appeared in his first season with 39 saves that led to a 3-1 overall record.
“Normally you have first game jitters, but hopefully with a large group of seniors those jitters are only a couple minutes,” Arroyo said about the team’s opening tournament.
Long Beach heads out to Redlands, Calif. Saturday to participate in the Inland Empire Classic.