PASADENA, Calif. (Sept. 3, 2015) – After such a successful 2014 season in which the Beavers more than doubled the prior season's win total, the Caltech men's water polo team is looking to continue its forward momentum behind new head coach Jon Bonafede.
"I've honestly been floored by how hard everyone pushes themselves and is on the same page," Bonafede said. "There is a great team dynamic – I couldn't have walked into a better group. My approach is a little new for them but we're all collecting more data on each other and we'll play to our strengths within whatever system fits us best."
For the third straight season, the offense once again will revolve around a trio of veterans in seniors James Blackwood (Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif. / Palos Verdes Peninsula) and Patric Eck (Fullerton, Calif. / Troy) and junior Chris Bradley (Half Moon Bay, Calif. / Serra). Of course, Bradley's is the name on everyone's lips after a record-setting 134-goal sophomore campaign that culminated in All-America honors. Blackwood and Eck had fine seasons as well, combining for 120 total goals and assists and drawing 89 exclusions. Blackwood is likely to be tasked with a bit more of the offensive load this year while Eck's raw strength and defensive ability could have him focusing more on that side of the ball.
"Those three are all in phenomenal shape and can play with just about anybody," Bonafede said. "There's every reason to believe will have another amazing year. I am counting on him to keep his shooting percentage up while some other guys step up to open up the offense. Jim has great legs to get out of the water and those two can do whatever is asked of them on offense or defense. They'll have different responsibilities depending on our opponents' style and strengths. Pat can expect to match up with other teams' best player; he's our best bet to win wrestling battles and contain in the two-meter or wherever they have some real size."
Matthew Cedeno (Virginia Beach, Va. / Ocean Lakes) and Galen Gao (Irving, Texas / St. Mark's School) are the only other seniors on the roster. Both have made their impact primarily on perimeter defense and they will be called on to do the same this year, especially with the graduation of fixtures Matt Lappin and C.J. Culpepper.
"Cedeno has a lot of heart and always comes ready to work," Bonafede said. "His upside is still pretty high. Galen is one of the most committed, true student-athletes on campus and brings a lot of experience too. His role might expand a bit; he understands the flow of the game and always looks to initiate."
Fresh off a summer spent as a member of Team USA at the European Maccabi Games, junior Tomas Tussie (Weston, Fla. / Cypress Bay) is also back and set to reprise his role in the hole set. Six-year teammate Jordan Bonilla (Weston Fla. / Cypress Bay) provides a similar physical presence in the hole.
"Tomas picked up some really good international experience, and with a couple seasons under his belt is not far from a potential breakout," Bonafede said. "He has good size and a crisp touch on his passes, especially his lob, which can be a rare find. Jordan is just plain powerful in center and should build on last year."
Three sophomores round out the returners as Phillip An (Troy, Mich. / Troy), Henry Baer (Lafayette, Calif. / Acalanes) and Richard May (Guilford, Conn. / Choate Rosemary Hall) are also set to be part of the regular rotation once more. All three entered Caltech with minimal experience as rookies but came along throughout the season and will be looking to continue that growth in their second go-round.
"Henry is such an aquatic athlete and a real sponge for learning," Bonafede said. "He's a facilitator from the left wing and his speed makes him a real counterattack expert. Phillip and Rich both bring a more physical presence and have a lot of energy and enthusiasm as well. All three have a lot more room to grow."
Six freshmen have been added to the squad for the 2015 season, including a trio of goalkeepers competing to fill the void left by the graduation of All-American Ben Grabowski, the program's career saves record holder. Shaurya Gilani (Chicago, Ill. / Adlai Stevenson), John Lloyd (San Diego, Calif. / Torrey Pines) and Charles Ross (Wexford, Pa. / North Allegheny) each hang their hat on a different style of goalkeeping, which already has Bonafede excited about the possibilities of mixing and matching them.
"We don't have a clear starter at this point, but that's not to say that any of the three isn't capable," Bonafede said. "They all have their strengths and are well conditioned, so we'll have some rare goalie depth. They're going to allow us to play different defensive sets against different types of opponents."
The other three freshmen will look to make their case for playing time in an already deep team, but appear to have the necessary skills to do so. Eshan Govil (Redwood City, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) helped his high school team to SHP, CCS D2 and WCAL Division titles while Billy Bloomquist (Campbell, Calif. / The Harker School) was a three-time All-Division Second Team selection playing alongside teammate Aadyot Bhatnagar (San Jose, Calif. / The Harker School).
"All the freshmen are showing some real potential," Bonafede said. "Eshan can throw pretty well and isn't afraid to use his body; I imagine he'll score a handful of good goals for us. Billy is a leader in the making, always communicating and taking charge in drills. Aadyot is embracing the more direct attention and coaching we're able to give him and is quickly learning more about concepts within our strategy."
As impressive as last season was, the Beavers are hungry for more. This combination of senior leadership and talent, returning core and impact freshmen could be the perfect recipe for even more success in 2015.
"The first games are about executing the fundamentals we've been working on in preseason," Bonafede said. "Everyone has a great attitude, comes to practice ready to work and is ready to build on the momentum of last season combined with the addition of this talented freshman class."
The Beavers open the season on Saturday, Sept. 5 at the Whittier Open, where they will face the Division III-ranked No. 1 Poets at 10:30 a.m. and Grossmont College at 4:30 p.m.