Exactly a week ago, I had the pleasure of seeing our nationally 3rd ranked Cal Men’s Water Polo team in action here on the East Coast. Golden Bears were playing in the Princeton Invitational along with several West Coast teams like UCLA and UC San Diego. The West Coast teams only played official matches against East Coast teams though.
Golden Bears opened their 2016 season with a dominant 18-8 victory over host Princeton. Bears then won a second match on the day when they defeated George Washington by a score of 15-4 to cap the first day of the season.
I got to speak with Head Coach, Cal alum and 2x USA Calympian, Kirk Everist after the GW match.
Ruey Yen: As expected, you guys started the season 2-0. How do you feel about Day 1?
Kirk Everist: It’s nice to get going. We have been training hard and working out with each other. You like to get out and play different teams. I think it was a good first day. Guys were focused and had some good moments. We got to play a lot of people. We got three true freshmen playing; so it’s good to get them some experiences. I thought, all and all, it was a good way to start [the year].
Ruey Yen: Traveling all the way out to the East Coast, this is not an annual trip, right?
Kirk Everist: No, we don’t do this every year. We try to get the kids to come out to the East Coast at least once in their collegiate career. There are a lot of teams on the East Coast. We want to support them. We get to play a bunch of different teams that we don’t see in California a lot, because they might not be able to make it out west due to their budget. We try to come out here at least once every 4 years. This is the first time since I have been coaching that we have come out to Princeton. It’s a beautiful campus and beautiful facility. We are happy that they hosted this tournament.
Ruey Yen: Speaking of facility, the new Cal Aquatic Center is about to open? What’s the timeline on that?
Kirk Everist: Very soon. We are hoping in the next couple of weeks we will be using it.
Nice facility here in Princeton. Cal Aquatic is about to open a new facility too. pic.twitter.com/VrQm3ovtrH— Ruey Yen (@YRueyYen) September 9, 2016
Ruey Yen: Cool, how do you foresee the new facility will help the program?
Kirk Everist: It definitely gives us more flexibility. It will help the student-athletes in a number of ways. We have more ability to have different practice schedules. More ability to adjust for time conflicts. We also get more space. Two swimming teams, men and women, will not working out in the same facility all the times with the water polo teams. Cal Diving, of course, will have their own platform so that they don’t need to drive out to Stanford to train. It gives us a lot more flexibilities and opportunities to train. It is a great and spectacular facility. Our guys will be well taken cared of in that pool.
Obviously, we will still be at Spieker a lot, especially for our games. That’s a pool that has a tremendous amount of history from swimming to water polo. We always love playing there too.
Ruey Yen: Speaking of women’s water polo team, Head Coach Rich Corso has recently announced that he is stepping down. How much have you guys work together.
Kirk Everist: Yep, Rich and I have worked together for a long time. He coached me on the [USA] Olympic Team in 1996 [Atlanta]. I played for him at the Junior Worlds at the age groups of 17 and under in 1985 and then the 19 and under championship in 1987. I played club water polo with him for awhile as well.
He’s done a great job with Cal Women’s Water Polo. They have a very good year last year and a lot of those players are returning. I think they have a bright future.
Ruey Yen: Can you give us an outlook on the 2016 season? UCLA has won back-to-back championships and went undefeated...
Kirk Everist: Yeah, UCLA is UCLA. Until someone can knock them off, they have got to be the favorite. USC returns a lot of players. So do we. Stanford has a good recruiting class. U of P [Pacific] also has a good recruiting class. Just like every year, there will be a lot of tight games.
We played UCLA as tough as anyone can play them last year [in the MPSF Championship game]. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get that last shot at them in the NCAA championship after our loss to USC. So, that [experience] drives our group. Trying to get one more shot at [a national title]. We have got a lot of talent returning. A lot of our offensive production is back. You have got players like Luca [Cupido] coming off the Olympics. That certainly is going to help. I think we have a good squad, very well balanced. We have got people at every positions. We got 2-3 young freshmen that should make an impact. As the season goes on, I expect them to grow into different roles. We are excited to see them compete too.
Ruey Yen: Speaking of the recent Olympic, the college women’s water polo game was decimated by all the top players, including at Cal, that had to take a redshirt season to train with the national team. How did the Olympic impacted the NCAA men’s game?
Kirk Everist: No, the men’s side was not as affected. For the men, if you are at a university, you only had to take the 2nd semester off. In our conference, there were only two players that were returning to university from the Olympic team. One was at UCLA. Another one was at Cal. But they were able to play in the fall and then withdraw from school in the spring to train with Team USA. Then rejoin their collegiate team now.
Luca [Cupido] is not here this weekend. He needs the rest. It has been a long summer with a lot of training. So he didn’t make the travel team. [Smiling] I cut him. So he gets to sit at home for the weekend. He will start back up with us probably the middle of next week.
Ruey Yen: Thanks for talking to me. Good luck the rest of the year.
I also got to speak with senior defender Farrel South, who is one of the leader on the team though not the captain (that honor goes to junior center Pedro Stellet). South is the only 5th year player on the squad. South set the tone in the Bears’ opening match against Princeton by scoring 4 goals to lead the team.
Ruey Yen: As a senior leader on the team, how do you feel about this upcoming season?
Farrel South: I feel really, really good. I have a very strong feeling that we will do the deed and get that ring. We have a lot of returning guys who know exactly what we need to do to get to that spot. And we are prepared to do it. We have battled through hell week and then all spring and all summer to get to now. This is a great opportunity for me, Thomas Carroll, Chandler Jarrels, Lazar Andric - as the 4 remaining seniors on the team to give everything that we’ve got.
Ruey Yen: So last year was a breakthrough year for the program, Cal making it back to the NCAA Championships tournament. What changed compared to the year before? Did you feel a change?
Farrel South: The whole team dynamic was great [last year]. We were all fully in it. There was no one that puts himself above the team. Everyone was there for each other. If someone needed something, we had guys who can be there to cover. Assists, blocks, anything that you could have asked for...we had. Unfortunately, we didn’t get that ring, but I thought last year was pretty huge for us. My first two seasons playing, we got 5th. Then last year, we made the NCAA and finished 3rd. That was awesome. With Colin Mulcahy and Thomas Agramonte being our two captains, it was awesome for them in their last season. I am hoping. No, I am not hoping. I KNOW that everything that has been installed in us this last season is still in us now and we will maintain and improve on that.
Ruey Yen: On the team, you have guys like Luca Cupido who is coming off being an Olympian. So he is not with the team this weekend...
Farrel South: We [the team] all know that [Cupido] puts in everything that he had for as long as he did. It was great for him to make it out to the Olympics. Also Nick Carniglia was also practicing with the national team as well, but unfortunately he got hurt. We are totally happy to have him back. He is healthy and working hard. We are totally fine with Luca taking his time [not being on this trip]. He deserves it, 100%.
The other person missing is Odysseas [Masmanidis] who is representing his country [Greece]. We are totally okay with him doing that as well. There are zero resentment about them not being here. They are our boys. They are our brothers. We will be excited to have them back, but we are excited for them that they are able to represent their countries.
Ruey Yen: Last question, you guys were able to beat Stanford and win the Heaston trophy in the Big Splash last year. Are you confident enough to say that we will win the Big Splash again?
Farrel South: Oh yeah. I feel very confident that we will [win the Big Splash] again this year.
Ruey Yen: Good luck on the season. Go Bears!
Golden Bears capped the first weekend of action with a dominant 17-0 win over St. Francis and then a 16-2 win over Johns Hopkins to go 4-0.
Sophomore Johnny Hooper lead the team with 12 goals. Freshman Jordan Hoover, who was named MPSF newcomer of the week, is 2nd with 9 goals. Farrel South is 3rd on the squad with 7 goals.
Bears will next play at UC Davis this weekend at the UC Davis Aggies Roundup. Bears face Cal Baptist and Santa Clara on Saturday. Then Bears will play UC Davis and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Sunday.
Bears will host the Mountain Pacific Invitational the following weekend on September 23rd through 25th. The Big Splash this year will take place in Berkeley on November 12th.