Last year, we wrote about a small school that was beginning to make big waves on the recruiting scene. This year, those waves are hitting the shore with a ferocity that is only seen at places like Mavericks and Waimea Bay. The school that is famously known for producing one Richard Milhous Nixon is on the verge of being a player on the national water polo scene.
2009 will mark the third year that Salem International graduate Justin Pudwill will be the head coach at Whittier. The third may well be the charm as Pudwill’s squad will be a danger in both the SCIAC and WWPA as he is bringing in a recruiting class that is the best of any school outside the MPSF. Last year, Pudwill’s team showed improvement as they qualified through to the semifinals of the SCIAC Tournament. This season the Poets will be aiming for much, much more.
At Water Polo Planet, we got a chance to speak with Whittier College’s Head Coach Justin Pudwill about his emerging program and below is our interview.
Last year, Whittier brought in a recruiting class that had to rank amongst the best fifteen nationally. This year's class might be even stronger. Can you tell us a little bit about the marquee kids you have coming in next fall?
Last year was really exciting seeing all of those new faces come into the Whittier program. This year I think some of the immediate impact players will be our transfers.
- Uriel Villa comes to Whittier as a sophomore after playing a year at Pepperdine University. He was a three-time All-American at Montebello High School. Uriel was also the CIF Division III Player of the Year in 2006. In the club scene for Commerce water polo club, Uriel was a Junior Olympic All-American from 2004-2006.
- Alex Perry comes to Whittier as a senior from Mercyhurst College. Alex was an All-American at Mercyhurst College. Before Mercyhurst, Alex attended Grossmont College in San Diego. While at Grossmont, Alex was a first-team All-American, First-team All-Southern California, First-team All-Conference, and led the state in 2006 in goals scored at 127.
- Jordan Van Norman is a transfer from Grossmont College via USC. While at USC, Jordan was selected as the Freshman of the Year for the Trojans in 2004 while tallying 22 goals. Jordan played at University High School in San Diego, CA. While in high school he was a three-time All-American. He played club for San Diego Shores and was an All-American at the Junior Olympics in 2002, and 2003. He was the Junior Olympics MVP in 2002. Jordan also has been a member of the U.S. Junior and Youth National teams.
- Rilesh Desai is a transfer from West Valley College. He was the team captain of the West Valley team that won the 2003 JC State Championship. Rilesh played his high school polo at Bell Gardens High School and was a CIF Division III first-team selection for three years.
Your program feels like it is close to becoming a top contender in both the SCIAC and WWPA. What does your program have to do to take that next step which is to win the SCIAC and to contend for a WWPA title?
I believe that after last year with our very young squad the guys finally saw how close we were to being in the SCIAC championship game. It took us almost twenty-five games to realize that. Although we played nine freshmen last year we could compete with the top teams in our conference. I think with the players that we will be adding this year, plus our returners we will be much improved. If we can improve every season we will be moving forward toward our ultimate goals. We are building a new aquatics facility that is slated to start in the fall of 2009. This will really help to get us where I envision our program going. We have a twenty-five yard pool right now. Once we have a facility that puts us on the equal with the rest of the teams in the WWPA, and the SCAIC I believe we will be able to surprise a lot of teams.
Casey Regehr was your most significant recruit from last season and was an All-American. Can you tell us a little about him and what makes him the great player that he is?
Casey is a phenomenal goalie. He has a tremendous feel for the game. I believe the best quality he brings to Whittier is the level of play he was competing against at West Valley. His desire to win really rubbed off on our young guys last year. He will be our team captain for the 2009 season and I could not be happier with the job he has done for us so far. I depend a lot on Casey. He gives us a lot of flexibility on what type of defenses we can run. I know that he will be great for us next year.
Will Jackson had a strong season for the Poets in his sophomore campaign. What makes him the effective player that he is?
Will Jackson came to Whittier during my first year in 2007. He was a left handed goalie in high school. Out of pure necessity I decided to make Will a field player. During his first year he gained a ton of valuable experience. Getting to play almost every second of every game was great for the development of his field play. Will is a big kid around 6’5” and has a great shot. The best thing about Will is he had no other prior coaching in the field until he came to Whittier. He has really taken to my instruction and has become a go-to player for us. Will’s best years are still yet to come.
Lincoln Haley and Wes Paulson both had strong freshman years. Can you tell us a little bit about what they bring to the table?
Wes Paulson really grew a lot last year. He was asked to be a starting center at the collegiate level right away. Although it took him a little while to figure out the speed and game play at the college level, he really impacted our team when we went into SCIAC play. Wes has the ability to be a great center and I expect nothing less from him. Lincoln Haley was a great pickup for the program. Lincoln played at Miramonte High School in Orinda, CA. Lincoln has a great understanding for the game. He is able to read the pool really well and was one of our best defenders. Lincoln also has a strong motor. He can play the whole game without missing a beat. I expect Lincoln to be a leader for us in the water. The guys on the team really respect where he comes from and the winning attitude he brings to our team.
This interview was born the moment I got a tip about the recruiting class that Whittier will be bringing in next fall. Make no mistake about it; Whittier’s class is one of the best ten nationally. This team is the very definition of a Rip Van Winkle. Not only do I see them winning the SCIAC but if Uriel Villa, Jordan Van Norman and Alex Perry can be what they used to be, Whittier might have the most explosive offense in the WWPA. Between Van Norman and Wes Paulson, the Poets have a chance to get the kind of two-meter play that frees up incredible shot opportunities for players like Villa and Perry who can shoot the lights out. As dangerous as their offense is shaping up to be, what makes the Poets truly dangerous is that their top player is between the pipes. Casey Regehr is without a doubt the best goalie that nobody talks about.
The year 2009 has a chance to be special for a rising star in the coaching ranks. Keep an eye on the Poets as they may well be submitting their best work in years. If Whittier is playing Loyola Marymount for the WWPA Championship, do not be surprised as this recruiting class has officially put the water polo world on notice.