PASADENA, Calif. (Aug. 31, 2017) – Faced with the daunting task of replacing half its roster while returning only three of the top eight scorers from last season, Caltech men's water polo could be forgiven for looking to the future. Yet, rather than resigning to a rebuild, Head Coach Jon Bonafede's squad is raring to go for its season opener on Sept. 2 thanks to an injection of high-end talent that stands to raise the team's level of competitiveness and enhance the impact of its returners who can now focus on their primary position full-time.
"This group may be young, but it is talented, focused and intensely motivated," Bonafede said. "A major goal in preseason has been to set a precedent for the kind of work ethic we want to bring every day this season, and we're quickly building chemistry. We have some clear goals in mind for the season and every chance to meet them at this point."
The 2017 team will consist of equal parts returners and newcomers, with six of each meshing to form what could be a solid foundation for years to come. With the opportunity that relative youth brings, however, also comes inexperience in the form of six departed seniors, including all-time leading goal scorer Chris Bradley (BS '17).
"We have a lot of minutes and production to replace, but we want to be a more balanced team anyway," Bonafede said. "Instead of one guy scoring five or six goals per game, we're looking for four guys to score two or three goals each. We also want to be more flexible in our defensive looks, and I think we have the right guys to get to those points."
The team's captains, senior Richard May (Guilford, Conn. / Choate Rosemary Hall) and junior Eshan Govil (Redwood City, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep), have been tasked with guiding the suddenly young squad as it transitions to a more balanced attack in Bradley's absence. The pair's approach thus far has meshed perfectly with the selfless tasks they shoulder in the pool, with May regularly challenging opponents' strongest players as arguably the team's best two-meter defender and Govil its best facilitator, equally as willing to open up the offense for teammates as eying the goal himself.
"Our captains are both really excited to be the leaders this year," Bonafede said. "Richard, the lone senior, is fired up after contributing a lot in what was his best season so far. Eshan has been coming along well each year and his game is a great complement for so many other guys on the team."
Junior Charles Ross (Wexford, Pa. / North Allegheny) also returns after ranking second only to Bradley with 57 goals while leading the team in exclusions drawn (45) and topping the shooting percentage chart among those with at least 50 attempts on goal (40 percent) despite it being his first year spent almost entirely out of the goal. His raw strength, both shooting and positioning, have made him an integral component on offense and a handful on defense the past two years.
"Now that he's had a little more than a year under his belt in the field, Chuck has fully embraced the idea of fine-tuning those skills," Bonafede said. "He's a guy who pushes himself pretty hard and holds himself accountable, which really fuels him and sets a great example."
Another strength for the team should be in goal, where both sophomore Bradley Justice (El Cajon, Calif. / Grossmont) and junior John Lloyd (San Diego, Calif. / Torrey Pines) will move back to their natural position thanks to the increased depth in the team. Justice was a valuable cog in the field last fall, scoring 23 goals and making 28 assists, but flashed exceptional skills in limited time between the posts.
"Both Bradley and Jack did what we needed them to last year, but they're goalies at heart," Bonafede said. "That experience is only going to help them understand opposing offenses better, and getting reps every day in practice will compound their growth this season. They can turn that position into a difference-making spot for us."
The six rookies will be leaned on early to fill out the starting lineup, but the size and talent of the class also should allow each to focus on his particular role as opposed to fitting wherever needed, as in years past. Together, they infuse significant strength, speed and successful experience into a squad already looking to harness considerable potential.
"For the last couple years, we've needed guys to be versatile just to make things work," Bonafede said. "This group is fantastic in that they're versatile guys who we'll be able to use where they contribute best from the start. We'll be able to alter our approach based on our opponents' strengths and weaknesses and execute at a higher rate because of it."
Bonafede has also added Jordan McKee, a University of Redlands alum, to the coaching staff. Her familiarity with the SCIAC and various coaching experiences since bring another perspective to the team as it looks to find its footing early with a pair of junior college tournaments to open the season.
"The returners and newcomers are coming together really well already," Bonafede said. "While we're looking good so far, it's going to take some time playing together before we're firing on all cylinders. Once we do, this team should be pretty dangerous. These guys are a bunch of gamers who thrive on competition and we're eager to get started."