Volume1: Number 1 Men's Varsity Coaches October 15, 2006

Bi-weekly a varsity coach from the west coast and a varsity coach from the east coast is given the same question solicited from a member of the water polo community. The coaches answer the question independent of each other and their answers are posted here together with a photograph and short biography of each coach. We hope to have the men's varsity coaches to answer the questions in the fall and winter and the women's varsity coaches to answer the questions in the winter and spring.

QUESTION: A strong team fronts your 2-m player and is able to hold position successfully. What do you train your team and players to do to be successful in this situation?

Denny Harper, Coach of UC San Diego

ANSWER: Here at UC San Diego we have basically five items in which to train our players to be able to adjust to should the above situation exist, which comes up often especially when playing a highly ranked team.

1) Initially and quickly (although a scouting report will likely dictate a pre game plan regarding the above situation) the team will determine if the position held by the 2m defender is a result of aggressive play. If it is we will attempt to “go at him” so to speak to force the referees to make an early decision about how they plan to call 2m’s. This “engaging” can result in a foul away from the ball (rarely called) or a defensive ejection. If neither occurs then we will attempt to hold inside water and or at least a side and bring the ball to the best entry position. This effort may only be for the first few possessions before changes need to happen, otherwise the game could get away from you.

2) Re - setting from either the one position or the five positions. Have the 2m offensive player take the monster 2m defender out to the one or five position and then the post is occupied by the re-set depending on which direction the 2m offensive player cleared to (i.e. went to the five spot, then one re-sets). Being able to do this is of course predicated on whether or not you have multiple 2m players or at least utility type players who can get set against a non 2m defender. This becomes especially effective if you have multiple lefthanders on your team. You are really doing well with this if one or more of the lefthanders have 2m skills and having them re-setting them from the five position. Once the re-set has been done then the game essentially (not always) becomes a 2 on 2 game.

3) If none of the above is applicable, then we will have the 2m offensive player clear the strike zone (area immediately in front of the goal) hard to the left or right. Once the strike zone area is clear we will have our players drive to the open water working for either an ejection or at least a ball side drive. Communication of who is “going” in this situation is the key. Once again, a pre game plan will apply with regard to who may be best positioned and or matched up with the best option for success. If multiple players from the two, three, or four positions drive at the same time you become quite vulnerable to a counter attack should the ball turn over. Balancing and covering for the driver is essential, while at the same time positioning the ball to get to the driver ball side pass or as a strike zone reset.

4) The foul and shot from the five is a good thing. Here at UC San Diego we have worked hard to make it a viable part of our front court offense. This becomes the next option for us to create offensive opportunities when there simply is no effective way to get your 2m player the ball. Without going into great detail, it should be noted that when attempting to achieve a proper foul and shot, old school coaches (like Doc?) must realize that creating an unbalanced pool is in fact an essential element of having this go well. I don’t yell “balance” nearly as much as I once did and players need to know this is what we are attempting and be ready to “cover” for the shooter.

5) Finally, if none of the above is working to the team’s satisfaction in the way of a front court offense, it’s time to change your defense. It is certainly conceivable that if a strong team has a strong 2m defender, then they probably have a few of them and will be able to adjust to any if not all of the above. If this is the case we will :

a) Run an all out press in an effort to establish a total team counter attack, working for ejections in a horizontal manner.

b) Run a “Gap” type of defense clearly attempting to manufacture offense, at the risk of giving up outside shots. The other benefit to this is you may get some mismatches in the strike zone before the monster 2m defender gets a hold of your 2m offensive player. Advancing the ball quickly can lead to an isolation of a 2m player allowing for the offensive player to attempt a strong move to the goal. Referees will have a tendency to react well to this isolation if an over aggressive foul occurs, often resulting in an ejection.

c) And finally, simply start sending “break a ways” with 10 seconds or so on the shot clock from the weak side. This is generally a last resort type of thing at which point you are probably behind by multiple goals and are now dreaming about how you wish you had a monster 2m defender like your opponent.

Just slightly behind the Goalkeeper, there is no more important position in our sport given the current make up of how the game is officiated than the 2 meter defender.

Denny Harper

In his 26 years as UCSD water polo coach, Denny Harper has established one of the top programs in the country.  In 2005, UCSD won a school record 24 times.  With multiple victories against Division I schools in Long Beach State , UC Davis, Loyola Marymount, UC Irvine, Saint Francis and a total of 19 victories against ranked opponents, UCSD climbed as high as No. 5 in the national polls and finished the season with a No. 10 national ranking.

In 2004 the Tritons had several young players gain valuable experience with only one graduating senior. While the Tritons fell short in their quest for their 14th Western Water Polo Association title, they had several wins over division I powers including Long Beach State , UC Davis, Loyola Marymount and UC Santa Barbara. Harper was named the 2004 CWPA division II Coach of the Year after leading the Tritons to their third 20 win season in the past five years. It was the second Coach of the Year (2000, 2004) honor at the division II level for Harper.

One of several highlights occurred in 2000, when the Tritons defeated USC, 9-8, in a national semifinal in Malibu to become the first non-Division I team to play in the NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship Game. The Tritons have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in nine of the past 13 seasons, finishing second for the first time ever in 2000, third in 1995 and 1998, fourth in 1999 and 2002 and sixth three times. The 2002 squad went 19-13 and earned its ninth NCAA berth by winning its 13th WWPA title at home inside Canyonview Pool. In 1995, Harper’s Tritons became the first Division III team to advance to the NCAA Water Polo Final Four, repeating the feat in 1998 and at Canyonview in 1999.

Under Harper’s direction, UCSD has dominated the Western Water Polo Association since the league began sponsoring championships in 1981. The Tritons have never finished lower than third in the conference, and in 24 seasons have captured 13 titles and eight runner-up trophies. Harper has been honored as WWPA Coach of the Year 14 times, including in 2002.

UCSD has been consistently ranked among the top 12 teams in the NCAA rankings, including a fifth-place rank in 2000, the highest in UCSD history. Harper was recognized three times as Division III Coach of the Year, and in UCSD’s first year of Division II membership in 2000, he earned Division I and Division II Coach of the Year awards. He has a career record of 409-317-4.

Harper concluded an outstanding tenure as coach of the UCSD women’s water polo team in 1999, winning five USA Water Polo crowns, one national runner-up effort and two national third-place trophies. He has also coached the highly-successful Sunset San Diego club teams, leading the men’s team to three Indoor National Championships and the Sunset women’s team to eight national titles. The coach also led the UCSD men into the Guinness Book of Records when his squad played 26 continuous hours of water polo on April 7-8, 1989 . Harper, a 1978 graduate of San Diego State University , began coaching at Rancho Alamitos and Indio High Schools , and at San Diego State before coming to UC San Diego.

Jason Gall, Coach of Brown University

ANSWER: When a strong team fronts our 2-meter player we have several strategies in which we use to break the front.  Our first option is we tell our 2-meter player to hold the inside water and try to push the defender away from the goal.  Obviously this means our offensive player must have strong legs and be able to use both his/her leverage as well as the defenders leverage to maintain position.  Basically we are trying to create some open water between the 2-meter player and the goal.  Ideally we want to be out on the 3 or 4 meter line.  Our offensive player is taught to hold his water going face to face until the ball gets down to a position that it can be entered from.  The reason being is that the offense player can see the ball in addition to being able to hold his/her water for a longer period of time. This allows him to time his next move properly as described in the last paragraph.  

In order for our 2-meter player to get the ball in this situation it is critical that the wings stay low along the 2 meter line.  If they wrap up too high they will not be able to make a successful entry pass.  It is also critical that the wings do not allow themselves to get fouled when the ball gets passed down to the deep wing.   A foul allows the 2-meter player to reposition and the goalie can also come out of the cage.  The wings must make strong release moves before the ball is passed down to them. The wings also can not afford to be pressed out against the wall or the lane line.  If an entry pass is attempted from that distance, the goalie will have a great opportunity for a steal.  The idea is for the wing player to create separation from the defender before the wing gets the ball so that the passer can be a threat to the cage as the entry pass is being made.  If we do this successfully our 2-meter player is in great position to score or draw an exclusion or penalty shot.

Since the 2-meter player is facing the guard with his back to the cage it is imperative that the offensive player turns his back to the defender and seals off his water prior to the entry pass being made.  If the pass is made too soon or the 2-meter player has not turned his back to the guard, an offensive foul will be called almost every time. If every one is on the same page and this is executed properly you will be able to break the front at 2 meters and hopefully score some goals and/or create some foul problems for the defender.

Jason Gall

Jason Gall was hired in 2004 as Brown's head coach for men's and women's water polo. In his short tenure, he has already brought about great improvement in both squads.

In 2005, the men's water polo team finished second in the Northern Division and fifth at the Eastern Championships, ending the season ranked 19th in the country. No Brown squad had achieved such success in 10 years. His women's teams have also done well at both events, finishing no lower than third at Northern's and sixth at Eastern's. His teams also achieve great success in the classroom -- both the men's and women's squads have ranked among the top four varsity water polo teams in GPA each of his first two seasons.

Gall brings an outstanding record of accomplishment to the Brown Water Polo programs. He was named Head Coach of the Pomona-Pitzer Women's Water Team in 1998 and Head Coach of the Men's Team in 2002. In 2004, he guided the women's team to the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) title and finished second in the nation at the NCAA Division III championships. In 2003, Pomona-Pitzer won the women's NCAA Division III championship and Coach Gall was named Division III Coach of the Year. Gall's six year conference record with the Pomona-Pitzer women's team was 46-25.

Gall has spent more than 10 years coaching club water polo with some of the top club teams in Southern California, including CHAWP and ORCA. He has coached and medalled in many National Championship events including the Junior Olympics and National Age Group Championships.

Gall also served as the head coach for the Inland Empire Women's Youth Zone Team in 2003 and 2004 as part of the Women's National Team staff. His duties included developing the players into future Olympians, as the team attends the National Selection Camp each year.

Coach Gall graduated from the University of Southern California in 1997 and earned his Master's Degree from Azusa Pacific University in 2001. His collegiate water polo experience includes being named a first team All-American at Long Beach City College in 1993 and later, playing on the USC team that finished second in the nation in 1996.