NCAA Men's Water Polo Wrap Up and a Sneak Peek of the Women's Season

Trevor Freeman.
Water Polo Planet
12/15/12

water polo ball reflexionMy normal writing routine is pretty simple for Water Polo Planet.  I reach out to a Coach sometime a couple weeks before my interview, ask a few questions, put together an opening and closing statement and I’m done without expending a tremendous amount of energy.  This month was a bit different.  Between travelling for the holidays, holiday party appearances and quite frankly an extreme amount of laziness, I stumbled upon January 5th with no interview lined up. 

With a deadline looming, I turned to the only person that I was certain would do an interview on only one week’s notice.  That’s right…….we’ll be interviewing water polo great Trevor Freeman this month.  And yes, that means for the next thirty minutes you will have the opportunity to read an article that consists of me talking to myself.  Hopefully I can keep you entertained and we begin with…

What are your thoughts on USC winning a fifth straight NCAA Championship and will it be six?

This USC team obviously ranks as one of the greatest of all-time.  Five straight titles is an incredible achievement.  Especially when you consider how they have turned their roster over in that time.  While the Trojans lose three valuable contributors in Tobias Pruess, Matt Burton and NCAA Tournament MVP Michael Rosenthal, their deck is stacked. With players like Kostas Genidounas, Nikola Vavic, Jeremy Davie, James Clark and Mace Rapsey returning, it is difficult not to see USC as the overwhelming favorite entering next fall regardless of what recruits arrive at the competition.  If I were down to my last five dollars and had to wager on who is going to win the NCAA title, let there be no doubt that my money is on the Trojans.

A lot of people will discuss USC’s talent as what makes them great, but I think it is their character and resolve that tips the scales.  Not only do they enter every game believing that they will win, but this team never folded or got tight when they fell behind.  In both the NCAA Championship game and an early regular season game against Cal that I watched, USC was on the ropes and like a true champion they never got down on themselves and worked their way back into each contest.

If Mark Schlabach on espn.com can release a 2013 NCAA Top 25 in football approximately three hours after the Notre Dame-Alabama game ended, can you give us some insight as to who you think will be the biggest contender to USC’s throne?

Good question, but before we get into that, you have to tip your hat to the fight that UCLA gave USC in that NCAA Championship game. The Bruins showed up and gave USC everything they wanted.  True greatness can only be displayed when a champion is pushed to its highest possible limit and I thought UCLA did that. While the Bruins return key players like Paul Reynolds and Aimone Barabino, I thought the true core of their team was that great senior class of Josh Samuels, Matt Rapacz, Bret Lathrope and Griffin White.  Therefore if I were going to compile a preseason top five, I would likely have them at the lower end.

The other three teams that would join USC in that top five are California, Stanford and Pacific.  In regards to Cal, I think Kirk Everist may have submitted his finest coaching job ever in leading the Golden Bears to a final ranking of third in the country this year.  When you consider what they lost during the season and how they rebounded to finish second at MPSFs, you have to be impressed.  Cal will be extremely tough next season though it will be difficult to replace a leader and great two-meter like Marin Balarin.  Stanford will be absolutely loaded going into next fall as they bring back four All-MPSF players in Bret Bonanni, Alex Bowen, Forrest Watkins and BJ Churnside.

With all that being said, next season stands as one of the best chances for a non “Big Four” squad to break the stranglehold they have had on the NCAA Championship game.  Here’s a trivia question.  Who is the last team other than USC, UCLA, Stanford or Cal to play for an NCAA Championship?  If you answered UC San Diego in 2000, you would be correct.  To take that further, since 1990 the only two schools other than USC, UCLA, Stanford or Cal to play for an NCAA title are the aforementioned Tritons and the 1997 NCAA Champion Pepperdine Waves.  If you like water polo and are dying to see some new blood, root for Pacific next fall.  If USC is the ruthlessly efficient Georges St. Pierre, then let’s hope Pacific can be like their “209” brethren Nick Diaz and stand as their biggest challenger.  The Tigers return everybody on their roster next fall including MPSF Player of the Year Balazs Erdelyi and All-MPSF picks Alex Obert and Alex Malkis.  Pacific elected to redshirt 2011 Cutino Award finalist and three-time All-American Goran Tomasevic for the 2012 season and he will return in 2013 along with another starter who redshirted 2012 in Balazs Szabo.

Any other thoughts on the season past?

I am glad you asked that.  I was really excited to see some new blood make an impact.  Air Force winning the WWPA and advancing to the NCAA Final Four was great for our sport.  They represent our lone foothold in the Mountain West region so they are a squad we want to be successful.  Mercyhurst making an impact out East was refreshing as well.  Their performance at Southerns and Easterns as well as finishing the season ranked eighteenth in the country shows that a good program can be built anywhere if the right time and dedication is put into it.

I noticed your San Francisco 49ers are one win away from playing in the Super Bowl.  We’re only three months removed from you almost having a nervous breakdown while watching the Oakland A’s storm into the playoffs and battle the Detroit Tigers before losing in a heartbreaking Game Five elimination tilt.  Are you confident and in the right frame of mind going into next week’s game against the Atlanta Falcons?

I just want to thank God and Jim Harbaugh for making this possible.  That punch to the groin is behind us and I feel good going into this week’s game. 

If you had a Cutino Award vote, who would you vote for?

Balazs Erdelyi.  Not only do the stats display his excellence, but you have to consider that in every game he played in, the biggest focus of every team’s defense was to limit his opportunities.  The combination of him and Tomasevic next fall will be devastating.

What approach did you use to convince a Store Manager at a Best Yet in New York to start carrying Lagunitas IPA and Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale?

Though I have been taking credit for this in front of anyone who listens to me, I probably should not be since I had nothing to do with this magical moment.

Lagunitas IPA, Kona Longboard Lager or Yuengling?

Tough question.  I lean Yuengling only because we have so much history together but it really depends on how I feel and what I am doing.

Is Stanford a more overwhelming favorite on the women’s side than USC was on the men’s side this fall?

I know Stanford has won two straight.  I know Maggie Steffens just won FINA Women’s Player of the Year and is only a freshman.  I also know they have three Olympians in Steffens, Melissa Seidemann and Annika Dries and would probably be ranked in the top ten in the world.  That being said, I have been hearing a lot of conjecture about how no team can stay within three goals of them.  I think Stanford is the best team on paper and SHOULD win an NCAA Championship.  That being said, the Miami Heat were supposed to steamroll the NBA the moment they added LeBron James and Chris Bosh and a funny thing happened against Dallas that stalled history.  In 1980, the Soviet Union was supposed to ride roughshod through the Olympic hockey field.  In 1985, Villanova was said to have no chance against mighty Georgetown in an NCAA Championship basketball game for the ages.  Just three days ago, the Baltimore Ravens were ten point underdogs to a supposedly superior Denver Broncos team and won an instant classic.  There is a reason why they play the games.

I am not counting out USC.  I think if those two teams played each other ten times that the Trojans would win at least once.  All they need to do is win that one time when it matters.

Who is your predicted field of eight for the NCAA Women’s Championships?

Stanford, USC, Cal, UC-Irvine, Michigan, Loyola Marymount, Wagner and Pomona-Pitzer.

The Godfather, The Godfather Part II or Goodfellas?

I am going to surprise everyone here and choose The Godfather Part II. Hyman Roth’s character seals the deal as I think the scene that culminates with him saying “I didn’t ask who gave the order because it had nothing to do with business!” is the greatest in American cinema history.

TV Show you are watching that is remarkably addictive?

Joe Schmo III.  Easy question.  This season might be better than the first two.  I beg everybody to give this show a chance.

Any other thoughts on water polo?

I’m good.  See you at the pool!

And with that, my interview with myself ended.  We promise an outstanding February interview and we look forward to the NCAA Women’s season kicking off!