Volume1: Number 8 Men's Varsity Coaches February 1, 2007

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: You are playing a team with a dominant driver. What type of defense should you use to negate the effectiveness of this player, and why?

Adam Kirkorian, Coach of UCLA

ANSWER: The first thing that crossed my mine when I was presented with this question was one of our country's best, Tony Azevedo. In fact, I hope the nightmares don't come creeping back! I consider Tony to be one of the best collegiate players I have seen and certainly the best I have ever gotten the opportunity to coach against. At UCLA, we played Stanford and Tony many times, two of those times being in the NCAA Chanpionship game in 2001 & 2004. They beat us in 2001 and we were fortunate enough to return the favor in 2004. But over his 4 year career he definitely seemed to have the upperhand.

There are so many factors that go into trying to slow down a dominate driver, that to rely on one type of defense would be a careless mistake. Factors such as; his teammates ability level, what hand he is, his ability to post up, etc., are just a few of the many specifics that go into preparing your team for battle against a great driver. Therefore, the best way for me describe my thoughts would be to list some of the key ingredients we thought were important whenever we got the opportunity to play Tony.

1) It starts on the offensive end of the pool - Make him work on his defensive end. By doing this, you can wear him down and hopefully reduce his energy and productivity on offense. In return, you might be able to get him in some early foul trouble. Unfortunately for us, Tony is as good of a defender as he is an offensive player.

2) Know where he is at all times - This also starts on the offensive end. That's when you first must be aware of where he is in the pool. This will help you to be able to locate him in the transition and then into the half court offense. Some of Tony's best looks on the goal came in the transition and as teams were slow to identify where he was. It seemed easy enough for him when someone was guarding him, so we didn't want to make it any easier.

3) Know his tendencies - Every player does certain things he feels comfortable and confident in. Watch, study, and be prepared to defend against them or force him to do something he doesn't feel as comfortable doing.

4) Make him earn everything - As with every great player, they will find ways to create their own opportunities. The key is to make it as difficult as possible for them and to force them to make the spectacular play with a hand in his face, someone hanging on him, etc... I can't tell you how many spectacular plays or shots I saw Tony make. It was important we didn't get discouraged. We just gave him credit and forced him to do something like it, or better, again.

5) Assign a player(s) to matchup with him - Pick your best defensive player and give him the important role of defending the opposing team's best driver. Whoever it may be, they must take ownership and pride in this role. With Tony, we used a combination of 3 people: Peter Belden, Albert Garcia, and Brett Ormsby. Each one of them were excellent defensive players and had different styles of defending him which helped to mix things up and gave Tony a different look.

6) "Team" Defense - As much as one player might be guarding him, it is important to convey to the entire team that it must be a collective effort. Everyone must be ready to play good 'help' defense because this dominant driver is bound to get free a few times during the course of a game. Communicating, crashing, stunting, are just a few terms that will be important to execute.

7) Limit ejections - Although a lot of dominant drivers can create opportunities in the half court offense, most of them can cause all sorts of havoc and score a majority of their goals on 6x5. To limit these man advantage opportunities for your opponent you must limit the senseless ejections on the counter attack and on the perimeter. Force them to earn their 6x5's from the center position and even then, you can run some zone defense to limit those opportunities. I have never seen one person effect the way teams play 5x6 defense as much as Tony did. He forced us to essentially "press" him because he seemed to be nearly "automatic" from anywhere in the pool. This left some of his talented teammates with very good opportunities in front of the goal and was a big reason why they scored at high rate on their man advantage. The more we could limit those opportunities, the bet! ter off we would be.

8) Hope your goalkeeper is up to the challenge - No matter how great your defense is, a dominant driver will always be able to get free to put up a few shots. Whether it's a brilliant move to get open or a defensive breakdown, you will be forced to rely on your goalkeeper to make the 'big' save when faced in that predicament.

Adam Kirkorian

There may not be another head coach in any sport throughout the country who has accomplished more than Adam Krikorian in such a short span. In his 15 years with the UCLA water polo program as both a player and a coach, Krikorian has won an unprecedented 12 national titles, including 11 while coaching both the Bruins' men's and women's teams.

This fall, Krikorian enters his eighth season as head coach of UCLA's men's water polo team. Last season, Krikorian led the men's squad to a fifth-place finish in the MPSF Tournament and a top-five final national ranking.

In 2004-2005, Krikorian led his men's teams to national-champion status for the third time in his six-year career as a head coach. His men's team finished with the best winning percentage of any UCLA water polo team since 1972.

Krikorian led the men's team back to the top of the rankings in 2004. He guided the Bruins to their first perfect conference finish since 1999 and first NCAA title since winning back-to-back championships in 1999 and 2000. The 2004 squad also rattled off an 18-game winning streak, which included capturing the Nor Cal Tournament title and gaining multiple victories over the nation's other three top-ranked teams - Stanford, California and USC.

In 2002, Krikorian guided a young Bruin team to a third-place finish in the MPSF Tournament and its first win over Stanford in three years. That team also claimed the Nor Cal Tournament Championship with a 6-3 victory over USC in the title game.

In 2000, Krikorian led the men to their fourth NCAA title in six years and second in a row.

Krikorian was promoted to Co-Head Coach at the start of the 1999 men's season, after serving as an assistant for three years. During the 1996-97 school year, Krikorian served as a student assistant coach as he completed his undergraduate studies, assisting Baker in leading both squads to national championships.

As a senior captain in 1995, Krikorian helped lead UCLA to its first men's water polo national championship since 1972. Krikorian scored two goals in the Bruins' 10-8 win over California in the NCAA championship game. During his senior season, he registered a team-best 31 goals, including one two-pointer, while earning All-America second team honors and All-MPSF second team accolades.

A four-year letterman, Krikorian captained the team in 1994 and 1995, leading the Bruins to the NCAA Tournament in each of those seasons. He finished at UCLA with 76 career goals, including a pair of two-pointers. Krikorian was named "Most Inspiration Player" by his teammates in each of his last three seasons.

Adam is also the women's head coach and his women's teams have won 5 national titles.

In May of 2001, Krikorian married Anicia Mendez, a four-year Bruin letterwinner in tennis who is completing her MBA at UCLA. Adam and Anicia reside in Manhattan Beach, Calif., with their son Jack (born July 2006). In May of 2001, Krikorian married Anicia Mendez, a four-year Bruin letterwinner in tennis who is completing her MBA at UCLA. Adam and Anicia reside in Manhattan Beach, Calif., with their son Jack (born July 2006).

Krikorian graduated from UCLA with a psychology degree and a business administration emphasis in June 199

JJ Addison, Coach of Connecticut college

ANSWER: The most important thing I will tell my players when playing against a strong driver is to keep their mouths active - COMMUNICATE. There is no shame in calling for help when you get beat on a drive, especially if it prevents a goal, but there is a big problem if someone sees a threatening drive unfolding and they keep it a secret. It is a TEAM game after all.

The second thing I will remind them of is to keep their eyes active. If everyone is constantly aware of the BALL, their PLAYER, the CENTER and their AREA, they will always be ready to help when a strong driver is on the move or they will at least be able to COMMUNICATE the situation they see. There are few things more effective than a well-timed blind-side crash onto the ball just as a driver receives a pass, in no small part because it will make the driver think twice about their next move. The wings in particular are a good place to help from. They must be aware of what is going on behind them
at all times.

Next is the body position of the drive defenders. If the driver likes to grab to gain advantage, we must keep our hips up and our hands light and active so that we don't offer up a handle. If the driver likes to use a big ball-fake to draw the defender into contact before making the drive, we must maintain a solid shot-blocking position and not allow ourselves to jump. If the driver likes to fake one drive before making the real move into the score zone, we must move with the driver, maintaining eye contact and be ready to call for help if we get beat. This is all information that we will have hopefully gained by scouting the other team ahead of time.

If our press is too tight physically we will get beat. If our press is too tight mentally (ie too focused on 'our man') we will get beat. These are problems that are easy to avoid, but they are also easy to fall into. If the press isn't working, I will change to a zone defense. The key to maintaing a zone against one or more strong drivers is, again, COMMUNICATION.

As perimeter players move, I like to try to hold our defensive positions by 'passing off' drivers as they enter new areas of the front court which obviously involves a LOT of talking. In addition, the wing defenders have to be aware of when the drivers are coming and when it is safe to switch on to them. The thinking with a zone is that it forces my defenders to (literally) step back from their driver and see a bigger part of the frontcourt. This in turn will hopefully improve their awareness when the other team is driving and their communication as they are now in a better position (physically) to talk to each other. A zone does put a lot of pressure on the goalie and everyone must understand that if you are taking the score zone away, you are going to give up perimeter shots, and likely, goals.

With any defense, against any team, it all comes back to communication and awareness for me. A press will take some things away but if not done well, you will give up a lot to strong drivers. A zone will take other things away, but the difference is that you know what you are giving up ahead of time. At the collegiate level, drivers often move to the goal to increase their chances of scoring, possibly because they are weak shooters. Having had the luxury of a strong goalie, I have seen how tough it can be for other teams to win based on perimeter shooting alone. If in scouting a team, I see that a dominant driver is dominant at driving but not neccessarily shooting, I will gamble on my goalie and play a zone. If I see that the driver is earning a lot of ejections and the team is scoring their goals on 6/5's, I might infer that they would also be good shooting through a zone and play a press. Talk to each other, see each other, play for each other.

JJ Addison

JJ Addison enters his fifth season as the head men and women's water polo coach at Connecticut College.

A 2001 graduate of the University of Colorado, Addison previously served as head coach of the club water polo team at his alma-mater. Addison directed the Buffalo water polo program for two years, his first one as a student-coach. Under his direction, Colorado had an overall record of 29-5. In 2001, Addison was honored as the Southwest Division Coach of the Year.

Prior to his arrival at Colorado, Addison spent three years at the University of Southern California. Addison excelled with the Trojan varsity program, and received the Spirit of Troy Award from the University in 1997.