After ending last season with a record of 7-24 overall and 3-7 in their conference, the men’s water polo team has high hopes on making it to the top four this season.
Last season’s team had more returners who had the opportunity to grow and mature together, which made them a more experienced team as a whole.
“Last year’s record did not show how we did. There were a lot of close games” senior two-meter Andrew MacKay said.
This season there are an even amount of returners as there are freshman and transfers, which may seem to give them a bit of a disadvantage, because they are still getting used to playing with one another.
They are overcoming this challenge together as a team before their conference starts.
“In the beginning of this year we struggled,” head coach Alex La said. “We have lots of young new players who are keeping up and competing for playing time. With youth comes energy. What we need is a lot of energy.”
This season’s team may have lost players who graduated and others that decided to not return and may be a younger group but they are faster, stronger and more eager to learn.
“We are really more youthful which is good or bad,” senior utility player Kyle Thorsness said. “I like to take it as good. So far so good.”
La, a La Verne alumnus in his fourth season as head coach, said the team seems to have great transition speed from offense to defense as well as a great drive and passion.
He sees potential in each of his players and looks forward to seeing them grow.
“Since I’ve taken over, two students have been with me the longest,” La said. “Andrew MacKay, a four year two-meter player, and Emerson Gant, a three year two-way player. It is exciting to see them play all the years, improve from season to season and stick with the program.”
There are many exciting returners and new players this season to look out for.
There are the returners in Gant, a Second-Team All-SCIAC and Honorable Mention All-American performer from a year ago, MacKay, Thorsness, and sophomore defender Daniel Hargis.
In addition to the returners, there is a core group of freshmen, including utility player Tyler Hunt, goalkeeper Dan Newell, driver Jon Jarvis and utility player Julian Casillas who look to lead the Leopards to victory.
“Not only do we have the new freshmen but we have a few transfers to look out for too,” Thorsness said. “Two goalies: junior Brendon Jones from Murrieta and sophomore Sean Ketner from Pleasanton. Also junior field player Cooper Durette from Oceanside who’s helping out.”
The team is currently 1-7 overall, facing Division I or II teams in five of their eight contests, but they are growing and learning to work with one another.
They have much to improve on in their offense and defense, as well as learning to communicate with each other in the water.
“Last year we started to talk more in practice and in games and that helped us,” MacKay said. “This year we need to do the same as well as put our egos and selfish ambitions aside for the team. Also, I want to see us come together as a team quicker than it usually takes.”
This season will be exciting and eventful to see this young team grow and work together to achieve their goal to be in the top four of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference at the end-of-season SCIAC tournament.
“Having the fans at our games pumps us up to play better,” MacKay said.
The Leopards have a Facebook group page, ULV Men’s Polo, that is available for any fans to become friends with to get information on where and when their games will be.
La Verne next plays at 12:30 p.m. against MIT and 4:30 p.m. against Cal Lutheran on Saturday at the CLU Invitational in Thousand Oaks.
The Leopards return home to co-host the Claremont Convergence Tournament on Oct. 7 through Oct. 8 against opponents to be determined.
Grace Casale can be reached at email@example.com.