The Long Beach State men’s water polo program is on the upswing after winning the Golden Coast Conference and reaching the NCAA Tournament last year, but coach Gavin Arroyo knows his 2019 squad is far from being complete because of injuries and transfers.
“Week by week we’ve been slowly putting it together,” Arroyo said. “It’s a race against time. I can’t remember a season where at practice I’m giving the black caps to the first six and it’s changing almost every day.”
The Beach, ranked No. 5 in the preseason coaches’ poll, will lean on All-Americans Austin Stewart and Garrett Zaan in attack this year. The redshirt senior Stewart scored 56 total goals last season with a .683 shot percentage.
“Stewart is definitely the most cerebral player in the pool,” Arroyo said. “We’re looking to him to kind of manage and control the games. I want the ball in his hands. He’s like our point guard.”
Zaan scored 26 goals as a freshman last year, and Arroyo said he hopes Zaan’s finishing ability can take over games as well.
Goalkeeper Marwan Darwish is also back in the cage after winning the Golden Coast Conference MVP award with 24 saves in the tournament. However, he’ll be battling for playing time with newcomer Andrej Bosanac. Arroyo said the Montenegro native is getting lessons on how to adjust to life in the States from Darwish, who moved from Egypt two years ago.
LBSU is also welcoming other transfer who will likely play big roles in the pool this season. On the top of that list is UCLA transfer Quinten Osborne, who scored 10 goals in 24 matches for the Bruins in 2017.
“One of my colleagues said ‘oh, it’s nice that he fell in your lap’ but he didn’t really fall into my lap because he came to us and not you,” Arroyo said. “The work I’ve been doing with Team USA the past five years pays off because I coached him on the junior team… Our brand is stronger than it was five years ago.”
Arroyo is also waiting for the paperwork to clear on Brazilian transfer Rafael Real Vergara, who he expects to be a game changer.
Junior transfers Eduardo Wainberg and Elijah Graves have already contributed at the season-opening Triton Invitational last weekend in San Diego. LBSU won three of its four games thanks to balanced scoring.
Sophomore center Theodoros Pateros scored a game-high four goals in the win over Fresno Pacific while Graves, senior Johnathan Wong and sophomore Matt Morris each added three goals. Wong scored a game-high four goals in the win over UC Davis, and Stewart led the way with four goals in the win over UC Irvine. LBSU lost to UC Santa Barbara 12-9 in the tournament championship game.
“For last weekend to work out the way it did, I’m very pleased because we’re really out of synch all over the place right now,” Arroyo said. “It’s a matter of how fast we can get guys up and running so we can get some continuity and start working on some chemistry before we get into the mix.”
The mix starts in October with an eight-game home stand at Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center that includes the first three GCC games against San Jose State, UCSB and Pacific.
“Being the defending conference champion brings a different set of responsibilities,” Arroyo said. “We want to be in a position to win conference every year.”