Located on one of the most beautiful campuses in the United States is a water polo team that is poised to have an outstanding fall. Pepperdine University has a long history of being a water polo power and one only has to look at the coaching staff and roster of our country’s National team to see the high caliber of players that the Waves generated over the years. Quite simply, Pepperdine is a water polo heavyweight and is a school that year in and year out expects to be a factor on the national scene.
Leading the Waves is Jack Kocur. The former Pepperdine All-American and member of its 1997 NCAA Championship team has quietly had a very nice run with the Waves as he has led Pepperdine to an 83-64 record in his five campaigns. That includes a sterling 2008 run where Pepperdine finished the season ranked second nationally and culminated with Kocur being named MPSF co-Coach of the Year. Jack Kocur assumed his current role after four seasons assisting current United States Men’s National team Head Coach Terry Schroeder at Pepperdine. Many may remember Kocur from his playing days as he was not only a key member of that aforementioned NCAA title team at Pepperdine, but he also spent time with the U.S. National Team and competed in events such as the 1998 U.S. Open, the 1998 Goodwill Games and the 1999 French Open. I had a chance to catch up with Coach Kocur to discuss the upcoming campaign and below is our interview.
I noted that you fielded a younger squad last season which resulted in Pepperdine taking some lumps while those players adjusted to the high level of play in the MPSF. What do you think your players have taken from that experience and how do you see that paying off this fall?
Each year that an individual or a team has the opportunity to compete in an MPSF season always gives you the confidence to grow for the following year. I am excited to see my underclassmen play with more confidence in themselves and each other. I truly believe there is a big jump in self-esteem from your sophomore year to your junior year. We were sophomore and junior heavy last year, which I hope plays out for us to have a strong team in the MPSF this fall. These guys have now been playing together for more than two years and we have seen some great success this summer due to the time we have had with each other. We are going to continue to grow from last year’s season and our offseason to put together a strong 2011 run. I am proud of where our guys are and excited about where we are going.
Arguably your best returning player is somebody who redshirted in 2010 as Andrew Milcovich returns to the squad this fall. Can you tell us a little bit about what makes him the incredible all-around player that he is and what you expect out of him in 2011?
Andrew coming back to our squad this year gives us the leadership in the water that we were missing last year. Andrew has been part of some tough years and some successful years in our program’s history. This experience allows him to lead his teammates back to the success we had in 2008. One of Andrew’s greatest strengths is his will and desire to leave a legacy behind that the team is greater than the individual. My expectation for him is to assist me in getting the best out of his teammates while at the same time maximizing his own potential. Andrew’s best games are ahead of him and he is learning that he is at his best when he is playing like a bulldog out there. During his redshirt year, he has developed a driving and post-up game to compliment his outside power shot. This type of game plan for him will free up others in his triangle, as well as him.
Danny White was your leading scorer in 2010 and he is just a dangerous player in the water. What makes him the outstanding performer that he is?
Danny is one of those sophomores turned juniors this year. In my eyes he has already been outperforming his 2010 fall season during our spring and summer training. Danny is one of those dynamic players due to his athletic ability. He has taken this offseason to learn new skills and techniques for his inside and outside offensive game. Other teams have not even truly seen the dangerous part of Danny’s game yet. His outside shot is already amongst the best, but now he is growing his confidence in his post-up game. I guarantee that you are going to see a new and active player in Danny White this fall.
When I watch Nate Castillo, I see a player with the tools to really be special. What are you expecting out of him in 2011?
I agree with you in that Nate has the tools to make a major impact this year for our program. Junior college transfers usually make a larger impact their second year in MPSF then they do their first year. Nate is going to surprise a lot of teams this year due to the dedication and motivation he has for his final year. We have had some great conversations over the offseason and I truly believe he is ready to live up to the hype that came with him out of junior college.
Nate’s natural abilities stand out when you see him play. He has worked hard over the offseason to develop a smarter shot, and not always rely on his power or strength. One of the greatest attributes that he has is his fearless approach to the game. He never second-guesses his shot or post-up game, and he has the desire to want to be the guy who carries the team in big moments. Every successful team needs a couple of these guys to step up throughout the year. I am grateful to have Nate be that guy on the right side of the pool taking advantage of those opportunities for our program this year.
Bence Valics had a very solid 2010 for your squad. What are you expecting from him in this sophomore campaign?
Bence brings with him the experience of the highest level of water polo in the world. He is incredibly bright and understands the game of water polo better than a goalie that I have had the opportunity to coach. Coach O’Brien and I were very pleased with his first year performance with the Waves, but we expect much more out of him this fall. It has been a natural progression for him and our players to grow together and learn to trust each other. We not only expect him to block the ball and run the defense, but we are also putting more pressure on him to become a true leader in and out of the water.
The other benefit we have as a program is the competition for the starting job in the cage. Matt Carter has been raising the stakes, which in turn has made both of them excel in their performance. If we plan on having a successful year, our goalies will have to stand above the rest.
With that our interview ended. One thing I always like to do is spot the Cinderella. There is always a team out there flying under the radar that has the potential to make things interesting on the national stage. Heading into last season, I along with many others felt that team was Pacific and they did not disappoint in climbing all the way up to fourth nationally during the final weeks of the season. While the Tigers will likely be even better this year, Pacific challenging for a spot in the national top five is expected. That’s why I look to Malibu this year. Pepperdine fielded a young squad last fall and those returning players should only be better in 2011. Andrew Milcovich is also back in the fold and he is one of the best twenty players in the country. While the Waves went 9-18, six of their losses were by two goals or fewer. Pepperdine has a coach who knows how to win and the national landscape should be drastically different with a number of key players graduating from squads that finished the season ranked ahead of the Waves. Keep an eye on Malibu this fall as Pepperdine should be back in the top five mix once again.