Poets Angling for SCIAC Repeat

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After an unbearably long layoff from competition, all nine members of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) will get back in the water on Saturday, September 4. It’s been almost 21 months since the last SCIAC men’s competition—which took place November 24, 2019 when Whittier beat Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) 13-12 in the conference championship match.

In 2020 the decision was made to suspend all conference athletics due to the COVID-19 outbreak. It’s taken until now for Conference Commissioner Jennifer Dubow and SCIAC members to agree to resume play. When they take to the water this weekend at UC San Diego’s Triton Invitational, Whitter, the defending SCIAC champions, will again be favored for a title in the DIII conference, one of the best in all of collegiate sports.

But, it won’t be easy for the Poets to repeat. Contenders to the title include the runner-up Stags of CMS; the Sagehens of Pomona-Pitzer which enjoyed a three-year stranglehold on the conference, and the Redlands Bulldogs, a dark horse threat.

Cal Lutheran must contend with the abrupt resignation of Craig Rond, the only coach the program has ever known while Chapman and La Verne will look to move up in the SCIAC standings after a long layoff. Occidental will look to profit from a fantastic new facility and a roster where more than half the players are donning the Tigers’ orange and black for the first time. And Cal Tech—with some of the brainiest people in the country, will look to figure out how to beat a SCIAC opponent for the first-time in 17 tries.

Order of teams reflects the finish from the 2019 SCIAC season.

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Whittier (2019 record: 21-12; 13-1 SCIAC; won 2019 SCIAC championship over CMS)

When last seen, the Poets and their head coach David Kasa were celebrating a DIII championship in their home pool, the Lillian Slade Aquatic Center. It appeared to be the first of what would be a dynastic run for Whittier in SCIAC as well as national competition.

Then COVID-19 hit.

It’s impossible to know if Kasa (3rd season) and his team will pick up where they left off in 2019. But critical contributors to that success are back for 2021. First and foremost is senior Eric Borunda (47 goals, 28 assists, 75 points, 2019 Second Team All-SCIAC). Carlos Heredia Viteri (34 goals, 31 steals) and Maxwell Murphy (36 goals, 20 assists, 21 steals) also return.

[Whittier, Oh! Whittier Say Have You Seen Whittier?]

The Poets have 19 listed athletes on their roster, including nine seniors and four juniors. One senior is Trevor Seifen; he will vie for top netminder duties against four other contenders: junior Adan De La Loza, sophomore Jackson Chamberlain and freshmen Austin Dale (Yorba Linda HS) and Lars Van OS (The Netherlands).

Other notable newcomers: Gabriel Montoya (Menlo Atherton HS) and Jasper Wang (Walnut HS).

Key Match-Up: Johns Hopkins—Saturday, October 2

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Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (2019 record: 18-12; 11-3 SCIAC; lost SCIAC and DIII Championship to Whittier)

Seniors Will Clark (46 goals, 52 assists team-high 98 points; 2019 Second Team All-SCIAC) Christian Thornton (38 goals, 12 assist, 21 steals) and goalie Noah Smith (30 games started, 258 saves, 9.21 GAA, 2019 Second Team All-SCIAC) return for Head Coach Greg Lonzo’s 14th season at CMS.

[On The Record with Greg Lonzo, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Men’s and Women’s Water Polo Coach]

Runners up twice to Whittier in 2019—first in the SCIAC Championship and then in the first-ever DIII National Championship—Lonzo and his Stags will look to leapfrog the Poets for top honors. They’ll need contributions from the 10 sophomores who were mothballed last year due to COVID. Notables from the class of 2024 include Gavin Rosser (The Bishop’s School), Harry Kinkler (Corona Del Mar) and Christian Pang (Harvard-Westlake)—a veritable Who’s Who of California high school polo powerhouses.

Lonzo also brought in two freshmen—Len Korol (Harvard-Westlake) and Theodore Pasquesi (Sacred Heart Prep) to round out his roster of 23.

Key Match-Up: Pomona-Pitzer—Saturday, October 30

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Pomona-Pitzer (2019 record: 20-11; 11-3 SCIAC; lost in 2019 SCIAC semifinals to CMS)

If the biggest addition to the Oxy program is a new pool, the biggest addition to the Sage Hens program may be the return of its head coach. Alex Rodriguez spent the better part of the past two years focused on the U.S. men’s national team. After a sixth place finish by Team USA in Tokyo, he will now be on deck—ably assisted by Alex La, Associate Head Coach, for the 2021 season and beyond.

Returning for Rodriguez (12th year at Pomona) are a couple of Sasakis—seniors Ben (24 goals, 14 steals) and Sam (28 goals, 26 assists, 21 steals). Senior Dylan Elliott (37 goals, 43 points, 2019 First Team All-SCIAC) also returns, as do 11 other upper classmen.

The Sage Hens brought in eight freshmen for 2021, including Cole Kendrick (St. Ignatius College Preparatory), Maxim Koretsky (Bellarmine College Prep) and Andrew Plaschke (Sacred Heart Preparatory).

Key Match-Up: Whittier, Saturday, November 13

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Redlands (2019 record: 15-15; 8-6 SCIAC; lost in 2019 SCIAC semifinals to Whittier)

Ryan Hall has finally climbed the coaching ladder at his alma mater. After shepherding the men’s and women’s polo programs at McKendree into the water, Hall—a 2008 Redlands graduate—returned to the program in 2018 as the top assistant to Tom Whittemore, who retired as head coach in December 2019.

COVID-19 gave Hall a chance to regroup; he’s responded by bringing in nine freshmen including: Jack Everett (Agoura HS), Ron Gvishi (Marin Academy) and Max Wagener (Piedmont HS).

Notable returnees for the Bulldogs: Tor Cole (9 goals, 13 assists), Drake Moody (12 goals, 7 assists, 11 steals) and goalie Liam Murphy (7 games started, 45 saves, 11.21 GAA).

Key Match-Up: CMS—Saturday, October 9

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Cal Lutheran (2019 record: 14-13; 7-7 SCIAC)

The biggest change in Thousand Oaks is that former head coach Craig Rond is out and Cody Pletcher, his assistant the past 14 years, has been elevated to interim head coach of both the men’s and women’s programs. This is a surprising development, especially on the women’s side, where Rond was named SCIAC 2021 Coach of the Year and his daughter Lexi was tabbed as the 2021 ACWPC Division III player of the year.

“Craig Rond is no longer serving on Cal Lutheran’s coaching staff,” Karin Grennan, Media Relations Manager, Cal Lutheran University said in a statement. “He is employed as a teacher at Thousand Oaks High School. We thank him for building a strong foundation for our water polo program and wish him well as he continues on in his career.”

Luckily, the former coach did not leave the talent cupboard bare. Pletcher can choose between senior goalies Andre Rivas (421 saves CLU career) and Jonathan Salandi (63 saves in 2019). Ben Brown (49 goals, 31 assists, team-high 80 points, 2019 First Team All-SCIAC) is a junior; seniors Stephen Blaauw (9 goals, 11 assists, 20 steals) and Dillon Goldsmith (28 goals, 12 assists, 20 steals) will team with Brown to provide offense.

Six freshmen—most notably Cormac Flanders (Santa Monica HS) and Greg Olsen (Thousand Oaks HS)—will join with three sophomores, including Justin Boals (Newport Harbor HS) to form a future core for Coach Pletcher to build on.

Key Match-Up: La Verne—Saturday, November 13

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Chapman (2019 record: 11-17; 7-7 SCIAC)

As “Team Ploessel”—Eric is the Panthers’ head coach (15th season); his assistants are his brother Dennis, Chapman’s swimming and diving coach, and Dennis’ son Bryan—prepares for a new season, there is both experience and potential core for them to work with.

With eight seniors and five juniors, more than half the Panther roster of 25 is upperclassmen. Notable returners are seniors  Andy Anguiano (33 goals, 16 assists, 68 exclusions drawn in 2019); Evan Beli (40 goals 33 assists, 40 steals) Brad Wilson (32 goals, 35 assists).

In goal, Chapman have two seniors—Owen McNicholas, a transfer from San Jose State, and Danny Meisel a transfer from Connecticut College—to vie for the netminder spot vacated by Wesley Hertel, who started 24 games for Chapman in 2019. Hertel graduated in 2020.

The biggest loss for 2021 is the absence of Graham Asalone (93 goals, 38 assists, 2019 First Team All-SCIAC); he graduates next spring but is not currently listed on the roster—and has been rumored to have transferred.

There’s no freshman from the incoming group of six—notably Peter Frisell (San Marcos HS) and Nate Randolph (Mountain View HS)—can make up for Asalone’s production.

Key Match-Up: Cal Lutheran—Wednesday, October 27

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La Verne (2019 record: 8-18; 4-10 SCIAC)

Five of Head Coach Pat Beemer’s (4th season) roster of 13 are freshmen, with the rest being upperclassmen. Of the returners for 2021, most essential may be junior Alam Barnuevo (47 goals, 19 assists, 2019 SCIAC Newcomer of the Year) and seniors Guillermo Ocasio (45 goals, 33 assists, 78 points, 28 steals) and goalie Ryan Lehotsky (13 games started, 127 saves, 14.32 GAA).

From the freshman class, Asher Kocalis (San Dimas HS), Cody Lehotsky (Bonita HS) and Peter Trinh (Temple City HS) are most notable.

Key Match-Up: Augustana—Saturday, October 2

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Occidental (2019 record: 4-18; 2-12 SCIAC)

The biggest addition to the Occidental water polo program—men’s or women’s—is the opening of the De Mandel Aquatics Center last year. The beautiful new facility will host its first official NCAA men’s polo match on Wednesday, September 25 when the Tigers host CMS.

Key returners for Head Coach Jack Stabenfeldt (4th season) are senior Cian Concannon (29 goals, 23 exclusions drawn), junior Christian Guillaume (30 goals, 24 exclusions drawn) and junior Jarrod Norton (22 goals, 10 assists). 6-4 goalie Henry Grady returns for his senior year; Stabenfeldt has four other goalies—junior Cole Ivie, sophomores Brandon Yeh and Daniel Cassel, and freshman James Derrod (Eastlake High School)—on his roster of 23.

For 2021 the Tigers will carry six freshmen and three sophomores—none of whom have played for Oxy before. Noteworthy are Matt Arredondo (Pasadena Poly, California) and Aiden Cawley (Whitney Young High School, Chicago).

Key Match-Up: Chapman—Wednesday, October 20

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Caltech (2019 record: 6-18; 0-14 SCIAC)

This fall, the Beavers will first strive to win a conference water polo match—something they have done only three times (with 55 losses) in the five years Jon Bonafede has been head coach. This may not be the year for that, as Occidental—loser in two of those three matches—has a new pool and conceivably has received a lift from all the attention associated with this investment in aquatic sports.

Bonafede returns three key contributors—all juniors—from the 2019 squad. Max Bricken (22 goals, 14 assists), Matthew Hajjar (17 goals) will supply offense; goalie Wei Foo (38 saves in eight appearances) will be in the CalTech cage. But, with only eight players listed on the roster—including Sean Zheng, a lone freshman from Polytechnic School in San Marino—wins of any sort will be tough to come by.

Key Match-Up: La Verne—Wednesday, October 20



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