The Long Beach State men’s water polo team has started the 2018 season with six wins in seven tournament games, but now the real challenges start with some of the best college water polo teams in the world on their schedule.
With a solid freshman class coming in ready to make waves, the Class of 2019 will actually make or break this season. Coach Gavin Arroyo has six key returning seniors who will have to work well together in order to fill big holes left by players like center Duncan Lynde and goalkeeper Thomas Freeman.
“This group is talented, but its going to be more of a pack mentality as we figure out its identity,” Arroyo said. “It’s a workhorse, grit and grind with these guys.”
Senior defender Austin Stevenson and senior attacker Chandler Kaltenbach will be the leaders on either side of the pool. Stevenson had a team-high eight field blocks last season. He was also tied for fourth on the team with 27 goals.
Kaltencbach led LBSU with 26 steals as a junior, and also scored 27 goals to go with eight assists. Arroyo said Stevenson, Kaltenbach and the rest of the seniors have been good leaders in and out of the pool.
“This group of seniors has done everything properly,” Arroyo said. “They’re really hard working, good people. They’ve never really had discipline issues, and they generally get good grades.”
Returning sophomore center Andrew Goodenough will be joined by newcomers Johnathan Wong and Garrett Zahn down low as they try to replace the 46 points scored by Lynde last year. Goodenough scored three goals in 15 games as a freshman. Wong is a transfer from Citrus College, and Zaan is a true freshman out of Huntington Beach.
Zahn and fellow incoming freshman Aaron Arias both have USA youth team experience, and Arroyo said this is the first time he’s had two youth team players on the same roster. He had just two over his previous decade on the job.
Theodoros Pateros also was at the recent Youth Worlds games with Zaan and Arias. He won the championship with Greece, and is one of the top recruits in a big freshman class of 10 first-year players.
Arroyo said he won’t stop the new players from subconsciously getting into a Long Beach state of mind, which is that of an underdog chasing the Pac-12 conference. He also won’t promote it.
“I think it’s a dangerous road if you focus too much on being an underdog,” Arroyo said. “You have a tendency to play the victim. But yes, we operate with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. We’ve got a great community, great support and a great pool. We’ve got enough. Obviously more would be great.”
If LBSU wants to accomplish anything this season, it will have to get a huge performance from goalkeeper Marwan Darwish. The 5’11” sophomore from Egypt will have to use his speed and energy to replace Thomas Freeman, who will miss the season due to ineligibility. Freeman made 137 saves is 21 starts last season.
“We really need him to step up,” Arroyo said of Darwish.
Arroyo is a member of the USA Men’s National Team coaching staff in Germany this week, so he will miss the match at his own alma mater University of California, Berkley. He also was named the technical advisor for the USA Water Polo Olympic Development Program.
LBSU was picked to finish second in the Golden Coast Conference behind Pacific, but it’s all about how teams finish at the year-end tournament. That will ultimately decide the NCAA Tournament representative, and Arroyo said he is looking forward to his team peaking at the right time. LBSU will have a great test late in the year with a road trip to Pacific, UC Santa Barbara and San Jose State at the end of October.
LBSU dominated visiting St. John’s 6-0 on Friday night at George Allen Field as Dana Fujikuni, Taylor Bistline, Rocio Rodriguez, Mackenzie Magaoay and Makayla Soll all scored goals to tie the school record for margin of victory. Fujikuni scored two of the first three goals, and now leads the team with three goals on the season.
LBSU (4-3-0) finished with 21 shots, 15 on frame, while goalkeeper Imani McDonald made four saves in 58 minutes. Riana Castaneda relived McDonald to make her LBSU debut. It is the third shutout of the season for The Beach.
Senior Tyler Spriggs had a pair of double-figure dig performances in two wins last week for LBSU (6-4) last weekend at the Towson Invite. Senior Emma Kirst also chipped in a career-high 10 blocks in the 15-25, 25-19, 26-24, 14-25, 15-8 win over Princeton. Freshman Kashauna Williams had a game-high 11 kills in the 25-20, 26-24, 25-23 sweep of host Towson.