Head on down to the Graham Athletic Center (GAC) and stop by the Lillian Slade Aquatic Center, the college’s pool. It is the place for water polo this fall.
The Men’s Water Polo team has had a very competitive opening to this season, playing two Division I powerhouses in the Whittier Mini Tournament, which took place here on campus. The Poets hosted the Stanford Cardinals and the Brown University Bears. Playing these high-level teams is the perfect opportunity to learn and grow; right in time for the start of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) season. What a way to start off the campaign this year!
The season really does not get easier. Sprinkled into the SCIAC season, the Poets face competition such as Air Force and UC Irvine, two more Division I opponents; as well as Biola University, a Division II opponent. The rest of the SCIAC is very good, there is not a single game in which Whittier can simply walk through teams.
The team is made up of a majority of upperclassmen, this valuable experience carried by the roster can prove pivotal down the stretch of unforgiving schedule. Specifically, the roster is composed of six seniors. On a team of just fourteen players, that is a large portion. There are also two juniors; together these two classes make up more than half of the poets roster. To round out the rest of the fourteen, there is one sophomore and five freshmen. This could bode well for the future, as the team will have a solid set of returners for next season.
The men’s water polo team carries a heavy weight on their shoulders. In 2019, the men won the Division III National Collegiate Water Polo Championship. Along with this amazing accomplishment, the poets have finished number one in the country in Division III. They did not just do this once; they reached this stature in 2004, 2009, 2013, and 2014. This success has come with many expectations, as anticipated. Although there is so much historical past, it is important to continue to move into the future. This is what this season will bring for the Poets.
West Coast water polo is a big deal. In California alone, the sport is so big and continues to grow. There are so many stout youth teams fielding fresh talent making competition to get into a college program fierce. So many college water polo recruits come out of the California area, and in some cases, it can be difficult to keep them in their home state for college. The argument could easily be made that a good number of West Coast Division III water polo teams could defeat Division I programs in other areas of the country. Whittier, along with the rest of the SCIAC, is no exception.
The SCIAC has become one of the best Division III conferences on the West Coast. It is debatable that the SCIAC has become one of the best Division III conferences in the entire country. Just to show this discrepancy, the Whittier men defeated Division II Fresno Pacific University earlier this year at the Bulldog Invitational tournament in Redlands, California. Also, many colleges in other areas of the country simply do not have water polo teams. To put this into perspective, there are only 22 Division I colleges, seven Division II colleges, 14 Division III colleges, one National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) college, and 31 California Community College Athletic Association (CCCAA) colleges in the country. That is a very small sample size compared to most intercollegiate sports.
Going to a game just shows how big of a deal it really is; the tall, metal bleachers surrounding the Lillian Slade Aquatic Center were packed with students and family members alike, eagerly honing in on every ripple in the water. It gets loud out at that pool, and is part of what makes the sport special. It is a great spectator sport; the fans get to be right on the pool deck a few feet away from the athletes in the water. All these attributes make for a unique and special atmosphere. Everyone should get out to a game at some point this year.
With so much intense competition and little breaks in the schedule, it is important to take a step back and see the bigger picture. This is where leadership comes into play.
Ethan Saenz and Ricardo Reyes Jr. are both senior captains on the team, and they are going to have to step into big leadership roles for the Poets this season. They are two players to watch for this season.
Saenz is an attacker who is from Riverside, California. Before coming to Whittier, Saenz attended Riverside City College. Saenz looks to be the spark the Poets are looking for on the offensive end. This is something Whittier can lean on going forward this year. Both players carry valuable experience that will be needed down the line.
Ricardo Reyes Jr. is another attacker from Commerce, California. Before becoming a Poet, Reyes Jr. attended Montebello High School. This season, the combination of Reyes Jr. and Saenz going against opponents’ defenses is going to be lethal. The coaching staff seems to be in agreement: “We expect good things from the team this year.”
After this crazy start, the Poets have held a record of seven wins and 11 losses in total. Within SCIAC, the men have an equal record of one win and one loss. The next game of the season is home against Pomona-Pitzer on October 12th at 7pm. It is still very early in the regular season and in conference play. The regular season runs all the way until November 12th, so there is plenty of time to head over to the Lillian Slade Aquatic Center this semester. Come out and support!
Photo Courtesy of swimcloud.com