When you go through the names of schools that have the greatest water polo tradition on the Division I level, it does not take long to get to Long Beach State. The 49ers program has had legends as both coaches and players. Long Beach State has produced sixteen Olympians and fifteen First-Team All-Americans. The 49ers have qualified for the NCAA Tournament eleven times in their program’s history. In February of 2006, Gavin Arroyo succeeded a legend in Ricardo Azevedo and in a short period of time he has already put his imprint on the Long Beach State program. Last season, his team went 17-15 while playing in the tough Mountain Pacific conference. For those efforts, Arroyo was named co-MPSF Coach of the Year. This year’s edition is currently ranked tenth in the country and already has wins over other top ten squads like Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount and UC San Diego.
As a player, Arroyo was one of the finest two-meter defenders our country has ever seen. He was a member of the United States National Team from 1993-2000 and competed in the Olympics in 1996 and 2000. Arroyo was also a member of teams that won the 1994 and 1998 World Championships, the 1997 FINA Cup along with the 1995 and 1999 Pan American Games. Arroyo also played professionally overseas for five different teams in Greece and Spain. A 1994 graduate of California, Arroyo won three NCAA Championships and was a first-team All-American in 1994.
Last week, I got a chance to discuss Long Beach State water polo with Coach Arroyo and below is our interview.
I have been impressed with your team both this season and last and I feel like Long Beach State is a program that is on the verge of taking that next step and competing for a top two spot in the MPSF in the near future. What do you think your team has to do in order to make that next move into the top two in the MPSF?
I appreciate the kind sentiment. I think the step for us or any successful program is getting as stable as possible on defense. I think that is an area that we have struggled. Also, I believe there is a psychological barrier that we must overcome. Certain programs are successful because when they walk on the deck, they know or expect to be better than their opponent. That confidence is latent even if the team is struggling. These programs tend to win the one-goal games.
Building that belief system and getting results on a consistent basis through defense are our main obstacles in getting to the next level.
Every person I speak with refers to Jeff Greenwood as being an absolute monster in hole set. I know last season when I interviewed you for CSTV that you were pleased with his growth from freshman to sophomore year. Can you give us a little insight into what makes him the great player that he is and what you think he can be for you guys down the stretch of this season and in his senior campaign?
We expect many things from Jeff. As I said last year, he has a tremendous work ethic especially in the daily tasks. Having a presence at two meters is critical for any offense. I expect him to become more consistent. There are some days where you can tell that he will take over the game and other days where the birds are chirping and he is just being a nice guy. He needs to find his competitive side every time he plays. If that becomes a constant approach for his game, he will be difficult to deal with for our opponents.
There are a lot of people who feel Aleksandr Petrovic is going to be a major impact player on the national scene for the rest of this season and the next three years he is in college. Can you tell us a little about him and what you think his future holds?
Aleksandr came in a little late with heavy academic and athletic demands. I think it has been a difficult transition for him. He has steadily improved game by game. I think you see that with many of the foreign players. All of the second year foreigners have made tremendous strides in their second seasons. It has also been a bit of a challenge for him to adapt to the refereeing, but he has certainly made adjustments. I am truly excited about his potential once he finds his comfort zone.
You are considered to be one of the greatest 2-meter guards in our nation's history and had a long career playing overseas. There are not a ton of coaches out there who have that extensive international playing experience. What from that do you think has helped you most as a coach?
I think every player who has become a coach does two things. First, you are going to make your players do all the things you had to do or remove all of the silly things you were made to do. Second, I think it offers you insight to the barrage of situations you dealt with as a player. I try to find solutions for the times I struggled as a player as well as when I was on teams that struggled.
Somewhere long ago every situation has happened somewhere sometime. I try to think about how my previous coaches dealt with the same problems that we as coaches deal with on a daily basis. On the other side, I try to think of how and why things worked during the successful high points. How my coaches prepared us for FINA 97, NCAA Championships, European Cup finals etc. One thing is for sure. I have an incredible amount of respect for all my coaches!!!
Let's say I was a junior in high school looking for a college to go to. Why should I be interested in continuing my water polo career at Long Beach State?
I think in life you take chances on people. Jeff Tedford was quoted on thanking his athletes for taking a chance on him. That's all I ask. If you are a junior and you want to work. Take a chance on Long Beach.
Finally, I noted that you were recently made coach of the Long Beach State women's squad. Can you tell us a little bit about that challenge and what you think the 49er women need to do to be successful this season?
Catharine von Schwarz worked extremely hard on building a solid foundation for the women's program here. I am excited about the challenge of coaching women for the first time. I think the same aforementioned challenges exist for building any program. Belief in your abilities and stability on defense is where we are going to begin.
With that my interview with Coach Arroyo ended. I look forward to watching this Long Beach State team continue to develop as their squad should only improve through the end of this season and next.