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: Your players are not known for their strong outside shooting ability, so your opponents play a drop defense, knowing that the scoring threat from outside is diminished. What do you do to make your players shoot better and what plays can you run to place them closer for better percentage shots.
ANSWER: Developing a shooter is a long process. Unfortunately, many players who had extensive swimming backgrounds and have relied on speed to excel in highschool have not invested enough time in becoming great shooters. Shooting is all about mechanics and practice. We have our ladies spend at least 20 minutes every day with various exercises, poundng a ball against the wall and another 20-30 minutes passing and shooting in the water. That adds up to tens of thousands shots and passes per season. Over the past three years we went from one of the lowest scoring to one of the highest scoring teams in the NCAA.
Effective driving is a pre-requisite in setting the stage for effective shooting against the drop. Whether you drive accross the field, or linearly towards the near post, you have drive with an intent to score or draw an ejection. The drive has to be with a purpose. Driving for the sake of just moving along ("because the coach said so...") defeats the purpose as defenses can easily adjust and remain in a drop position. Latteral movement with the ball with the ability to move forward and "fill the gap" helps get in the right range at the right time. We also encourage the use of a cross pass with a hope of catching the goalie off balance. Most importantly, effective "faking" differentiates great shooters from mediocre ones. A great fake means that defense and the goalie never know when and where you will release the ball. Leaving the defense in constant state of "jumpiness" helps open up holes and assures high percentage shots. A good shooter must have a well developed shot off the pass, a great low shot
and a cross cage shot, as well as a killer lob.
Sasha Poljak enters his third year at the helm of the Cal State Bakersfield water polo team, bringing a wealth of experience as a collegiate and national player to the Roadrunner program.
Poljak, a native of Yugoslavia, earned a spot on the national team just out of high school, helping the Yugoslavian team to a pair of World Championships in 1983 and in 1985 before moving to the United States to play water polo at Pepperdine.
While playing for the Waves, Poljak was a three–time, first–team All-American and was twice the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation MVP. He helped Pepperdine to three NCAA Finals appearances in his final three seasons at the school, where they placed fourth twice and fifth once.
Poljak entered a professional career after graduating from Pepperdine—but not in water polo—choosing to enter the business world instead. He has worked a number of years in sales and marketing, including holding the position of Vice President of Sales for a major healthcare supplier and a maintenance repair and operations company. He also recently served as President of a Bakersfield holding company before returning to the sport he loves.
Poljak began his return to Water Polo by coaching at the European Water Polo Academy in Orange, Calif. He coached the last two years prior to joining the CSUB program.
ANSWER: If my players are not known for their outside shooting prowess and, subsequently, opponents run a drop defense, there are a couple of possibilities to remedy the situation. Simple statistics tell us that the closer one is to the cage, the higher the percentage chance a goal will be scored. Two of the more common tactics against a dropping defense are following the slough in, and driving through on the slough.
If the defense is sloughing off the attacker by more than 1-2 meters, the attacking player can improve his or her shooting position by following the slough in and moving closer to the nearest post. For example, if a defense sloughs off 4, this player can move inwards closer to the 5M line and inside, or left, to get closer to the right post of the goal. This allows the attacker to have a better angle while also being closer to the cage, thereby improving his or her shooting percentage.
Another option against a dropping defense is driving the slough through. In the same example, a defender dropping off position 4, the offense can move the ball to 5 and the attacking player can drive from 4 all the way through to 1. The attacker at 5 wraps up and to the left while faking goalie and setting the defense. This forces the defense to either pick up the drive and open up a clean pass to 2M, or to stay in the drop and have the driver come free. In either case, the potential shot opportunities are significantly closer to the goal and inherently higher in percentage to score.
Often I will utilize a drive against a slough that shifts the offense from a standard 3-3 offense to a 4-2 double post. Against a slough, we’ll move the ball to a wing and initiate a ball-side drive from the upper row into a 4-2. The attacker on the wing will have a decent look into 2M at either post allowing for a clean entry pass. If the defense remains in a slough against the outside shooters, we’ll run a secondary ball-side drive from the top into 2M. As the attacker comes in ball-side, the player at the post clears opposite which creates better chances to use 2M and a higher probability to earn an exclusion.
Pat Beemer enters his third season at the helm of the Seahawks Water Polo program. In his two years thus far Beemer has led the squad to back to back regular season titles and a berth in the NCAA tournament in 2005.
Prior to Wagner, Beemer had been the Head Coach of both the Boy's and Girl's Water Polo and Swim Teams at Downey High School (Downey, CA), helping the Vikings to the San Gabriel League Championship in 2001 and 2002 and a CIF Semi-final appearance in 2003.
Beemer came to Wagner after a successful career as a goalie at the University of California, San Diego, where he helped the Tritons to a number-seven ranking in the nation and a Final Four appearance in 1996.
Throughout his goalkeeper instruction, Beemer has worked with three-time Olympian Craig Wilson and 2000 Olympic team member, Maureen O'Toole. The Downey, CA native was a student assistant at Rio Hondo College (Whittier, CA) in 1995 and an instructor at the U.S. Naval Academy Water Polo Camp in 2003.
His favorite movie is "Commando" which was released in 1985 and stars Arnold Schwarzenegger as John Matrix and a young Alyssa Milano as John's daughter.
This fun loving ambassador of aquatics also enjoys marathon running, re-runs of Growing Pains, the artwork of Jackson Pollack, parasailing, ultimate frisbee, recreational fencing, role playing video games, whale watching, anything on the menu from carl's jr, slinkys, the thundercats, good ole fashioned horseplay, and the unmistakable sound a tree does indeed make if it falls in the forest and nobody is allegedly around to hear it.