2007 SEASON PREVIEW: True identity
The Lions missed a fourth straight WWPA title by just one goal a year ago and now it is up to a young team to lead them back to the top of the conference.
Aug. 29, 2007
Los Angeles, CA (Aug. 29) -- Identity is defined as "the difference or character that marks off an individual from the rest; a name or persona by which one is known." In 2007, the young roster of Loyola Marymount men's water polo team will have an opportunity to create a brand new persona, one that the Lions hope will lead them to their fifth Western Water Polo Association title since 2001.
In 2006 the Lions were led by an eight-man senior class that played over 350 games together and won three WWPA titles. The group missed out on a fourth straight title last season as four one-goal setbacks to rival UC San Diego, including the final one in the WWPA championship match, attributed four of their five setbacks in WWPA play.
The Lions will have to overcome the lost leadership of the Lions 2006 class, including goalie Ian Elliott, who became just the fourth player in LMU history to be named first-team all-conference in each of his four seasons of play. However, for 11th year head coach John Loughran, this is a chance for a group of talented young players to define their own identity.
"This is one of the younger teams we have had," said Loughran, who is 171-134 in 10 seasons at LMU. "Since we lost so many starters, this group is anxious to establish its own legacy and identity. Our upperclassmen for the most part came in as freshmen and have develop really good chemistry."
LMU's roster has just four fourth-year players in John Prunckle, Pat O'Brien, Rory Kelly and Shaun Flood. Among the group, only Kelly and Flood have considerable playing experience as they each played 31 games a year ago. Flood and Kelly, along with four juniors; Tim Hummel, Julien Lormant, Mark Milovic, and Tim Heafner; are the group Loughran believes has a chance to let their identity lead the Lions back to the WWPA title.
"This team will play to its strengths of quickness and speed," said Loughran. "We are young and we will need players to step-up into their role right away. They showed us the ability to do that this summer."
Lormant was fifth on the team in goals last season with 26 and leads the group of returning players in 2007. Flood and Hummel each 17 while Heafner and Milovic had 11 each. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Fair, who entered into the program the same year as the juniors, also had 17, including three in the WWPA title game last year. Kelly added seven goals while playing all 31 games. The group played in a combined 210 games last season.
"Flood has developed into a leader for us and with the experience Kelly earned last season, I expect him to fill the role as a solid one-on-one defender with good speed on the counter," said Loughran. "Our other leaders are guys who have been key reserve players who will now have to fill the role as starter. Lormant and Hummel have started before and as juniors they will need to be big contributors. The roles of Milovic and Heafner will also increase."
The combined experience of the Lions' returning leaders will have their hands full in leading the Lions' 17 underclassmen. In that group includes 10 freshmen who will have a chance to make an instant impact for the Lions.
Leading that group is redshirt freshman Andy Stevens in goal. He will have tough shoes to fill in replacing the three-time All-American Elliott. However, Loughran believes that Stevens will be up to the task.
"Andy has gained valuable playing experience internationally as a member of the junior national team," said Loughran. Stevens played in the world championships in August of the U.S. Junior National Team. "His experience at that level will really help him step-in as our leader defensively."
"Benedetti has been getting stronger and will play a key role at utility and two-meter," said Loughran. "Fair is a good shooter who earned more playing time at the end of last season. He has gotten stronger as well. Aki is a lefty that showed solid development this summer and good also play big minutes off the bench for us."
A group of nine newcomers will also have the opportunity to earn playing time right away. Leading the group is Dan Smith and Tibor Forai.
"Smith is a big body who as a utility could get some playing time in his first season," said Loughran. "Tibor will be a playmaker for us. He is a very good offensive player who also shows solid defensive skills."
Bacccus was a two-time All-American for Whittier and also played for the Foothill Water Polo Club. He helped the team to its third straight Rio League Championship while being a two-time Player of the Year in the league. He graduates as the Cardinal's all-time leader in goals with more than 300 in his four years at the high school.
Also earning All-America honors in high school were Vick, Forai, Samuel and Smith. Vick was a N.A.G. All-American and a Junior Olympic (JO) All-American at Thousand Oaks, while Forai earned first-team JO All-America honors while playing for the Serbian Junior National Team. Vick played for Wave WPC's club team.
Samuel was a four-time letterwinner in both swimming and water polo, earning three All-CIF honors and All-America honors as a senior. He was also a two-time first-team All-Century League selection. A teammate of Vick, Smith was a two-time National Age Group All-American while also being a National Cadet and Youth Team Member on Wave FPC.
Jory comes to LMU as a two-time Scholar-Athlete and led his club team, East Bay WPC, in goals and assists in the 2006 Junior Olympics. As for Phelps, he played for Breakers WPC and helped his team to the 2006 SOPAC Zone Youth Championship.
Rounding out the newest Lions is Schlegel and Horton. Schlegel was a four-time All-Eastern League selection as well as becoming a National Cadet and Youth Team member. He was a member of the National Age Group All-Tournament Team in 2006 while playing for Navy WPC. Horton was a two-time first-team All-State selection in Washington while playing for the four-time state champions at Mercer Island High School. He led the team in goals, assists and steals.
"Our team will have to learn quick as their will not be time for transition. Our conference (WWPA) has really improved and the parity has spread," said Loughran.
In the last seven seasons, it has been either LMU or rival UC San Diego winning the WWPA. In the WWPA the Lions have been picked by the coaches to finish second behind defending champion UC San Diego. LMU and UC San Diego have played each other in the championship game of the annual WWPA tournament six of the previous seven seasons and they have been picked to be there again.
UCSD received 125 total points with six first place votes while LMU had 121 total points with three first place votes. UCSD defeated LMU 10-9 in the championship game of the 2006 Western Water Polo Championship at Pomona.
"While the conference has been won by us or UCSD the last seven years, the opportunity is there for others to rise and challenge for the title," said Loughran. "The WWPA should be really fun to watch this season."
LMU will start yet another campaign ranked in the Men's National Top-20 Coaches' Poll as they were picked 10th in the preseason rankings. The Lions have been in the top-20 every week since the 2001 season. LMU, who have won four of the last six Western Water Polo Association championships, earned 55 points to sit 10th, one point behind ninth place Long Beach State. The Lions are one of seven teams from the WWPA ranked in the top-20 with an eighth receiving votes.
They are picked among the leaders once again as UCSD is ranked eighth. Also from the WWPA is UC Davis at a tie for 11th with Navy, Santa Clara at 16th, Air Force at 17th, Pomona-Pitzer at 19th and UC Santa Cruz at 20th. Redlands earned votes in the annual poll.
The season begins for the Lions at the 2007 Triton Invitational on Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 1-2 in La Jolla, Calif. They open with rival UC Davis at 9:15 a.m. and then face Cal Baptist at 2:15 p.m.