THOUSAND OAKS, Calif.— The Cal Lutheran men's water polo team just narrowly missed the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) tournament last year, and are looking to make the jump into the top-four this year.
The Kingsmen graduated a decent amount of fire-power in 2017, so new student-athletes will get to step up and have their chance to shine. The team looks to be strong with the help of bonding, comradery and cohesion. It starts with their team captains, senior Justin English and Jack Kirby.
"We owe a lot of that bonding, comradery and cohesion to our two captains, Justin and Jack," said head coach Craig Rond. "They started real early and got the guys together, doing things in and out of the water. They have stepped up to the plate and have been amazing leaders."
Returning for their senior and junior season is Matt Fong and Seth Hightower, respectively. They will be asked to step up even more with the team being so young. The Kingsmen are freshmen and sophomore heavy, which means a lot of spots are up for grabs.
"The competition is wide open," said Rond. "We are such a young team, with a couple of good juniors that can really play their roles. Fong and Hightower are both strong, fast and high-powered.
"The sophomore class is going to be asked to step up big. Wyatt Lowe was a backup last year. This year, he is the center and he's going to have to take that upon himself. He came back in great shape. Rounding out the class is Stephen Blaauw and Parker Jory. They clearly worked very hard this summer and I'm pleased with how they came into camp."
The big question mark is which freshmen will get the call to make a difference. Rond has brought in 14 freshmen.
"All of them are athletic and know the game really well," said Rond. "Some that have stood out are Dillon Goldsmith, who is an incredible driver, good scorer and draws exclusions.
"Two lefties that have shown they can handle themselves are Matt Binckley and Ben Brown. Brown was highly recruited at Division I and II, but he really liked what he saw with us. Of course there is a learning curve, but they are poised and see the pool well."
In the goal, there will be a new face as Nick Loomis, Cal Lutheran's all-time saves leader, has graduated. Rond will look to two sophomores, Andre Rivas and Jonathan Salandi, who are battling it out in practice.
The Kingsmen will have many options to try at positions as the 2018 season starts. The first challenge being their east coast trip to the Conn. College Tournament. Cal Lutheran will play Division III top-five opponent, MIT. They also take on a good balance of smaller Division I schools and solid DIII schools in Iona, Conn. College and Washington & Jefferson.
The Violet and Gold then have a tough conference schedule, which consists of 14 games.
"They are tough games to win," said Rond. "You have to come prepared every game. Now we've gone to a 14-game conference slate and they come quicker. So this year, we want to be more focused mentally. Once you get into the final four at the tournament, anything can happen.
"We have talked about being accountable for our work ethic. We are placing emphasis on what we can control."
The work starts Wednesday as the Kingsmen open the season against UC San Diego at 2 p.m. in the Samuelson Aquatics Center.
2018 Schedule: Kingsmen Water Polo
2018 Roster: Kingsmen Water Polo
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Release by Ryan Jorgenson, Sports Information Director