PASADENA (Sept. 6, 2019) – The Caltech men's water polo team is hopeful its steady combination of returners and newcomers can replace last year's senior class and continue to add to the mounting progress under Head Coach Jon Bonafede.
The Beavers have now made it two consecutive seasons with SCIAC wins following a 16-season drought. Last season's victory against the University of La Verne on Halloween night proved to be one of the biggest highlights of the season. Caltech will look to create more special moments in 2019 through attention to detail, particularly on the defensive side which ultimately led to the Beavers' stonewalling of the Leopards, 9-5.
"As nice as it is to put goals up on the scoreboard, it's the little things on defense that really set teams apart," Bonafede said. "It's an area we will have to continue to improve in to make us more competitive within the conference. That said, we have some passionate players who are willing to give everything for our team. Everybody is getting better."
Caltech will rely heavily on its junior class to produce in the pool and bring added success to the program. Center Steven Csaposs (Davis, Calif. / Davis) will be a focal point for the men's water polo team on offense and defense. The two-time All-SCIAC Second Team honoree is one of the team's most accomplished two-way players, leading the team in goals over the last two seasons while setting the single-season steals record as a sophomore. Classmate Alex Janosi (Ann Arbor, Mich. / Dexter) came two steals away last year from claiming the program record for himself and his water polo skills have improved with time. The Michigan native is also one of the fastest swimmers in the conference, and as such has been a dominant force for the Beavers on sprints. Meanwhile, John Wang (Louisville, Ky. / Phillips Exeter Academy) will continue to serve as an excellent communicator and leader. Neil Sanderson (Laguna Beach, Calif. / Winchester) excels in catch-and-shoot scenarios while Rahul Arun (Buffalo Grove, Ill. / Adlai E Stevenson) is another do-it-all player who is a capable passer and versatile defender. Center Nick Clausen (Clovis, Calif. / Clovis East) also returns to the team after a one-year absence.
"Our returners are bringing a lot of experience to the table, specifically related to our system." Bonafede said. "We're beginning to see depth become a strength of the team. It's an element we haven't always had but as we're starting to see more players step up, it will be key to have the ability to substitute specific combinations of players who are working well together."
Goalkeeper Bradley Justice (El Cajon, Calif. / Grossmont) will serve as the team's lone senior in 2019. Justice split time in net with Shaurya Gilani '19 last season but shouldered more of the load as a sophomore while Gilani studied abroad. This year, the senior is expected to feature in net more than ever before after saving nearly half his shots from a season ago. His level of play will be crucial to the Beavers meeting all of their collective goals. He will be backed up by freshman Wei Foo (Hacienda Heights, Calif. / Troy).
"Bradley has definitely got his water polo in front of him this season," Bonafede said. "He's done a lot in preparation both physically and mentally between the end of last season up until now to get ready for this. The mental game is a huge part of goaltending and I think being in the right emotional state of mind is crucial to succeeding at the position. We are looking for him to step up in a big way."
This year's deep class of freshmen and sophomores will look to fill in the gaps and in some cases take on expanded roles. Athletic sophomore Alex Wang (Saratoga, Calif. / The Harker School) is back and expected to provide his team with a boost thanks to his offensive versatility and competitive water polo experience. Likewise, classmate Austin Harvard (Lake Forest, Calif. / El Toro) has been a practice standout and is one of three players returning to the team who registered at least 20 assists in 2018.
The rookie group is led by Max Bricken (Portland, Ore. / Westview), an extremely intuitive and anticipatory two-meter defender. The Oregonian's athleticism and skill in the pool will be a great asset to the program in both the short and long term. James Bowden (Los Angeles, Calif. / Granada Hills Charter) is another two-meter defender whose speed and athleticism will make for a great complement to some of the team's more offensive-minded players. Matthew Hajjar (San Jose, Calif. / The Harker School) comes from the same high school program as Wang and is already beginning to build chemistry with the lineup as a player who can slot in at center and give Csaposs some needed rest in certain situations. A fourth freshman, Juan Arvelo (Miami, Fla. / Riviera Preparatory School), possesses all the physical tools necessary to be a great water polo player and will add to the team's overall speed and endurance.
"Having a strong group of freshmen always gives us some new energy," Bonafede said. "It can be tough to add new faces and new personalities but everybody is getting along really well and growing together. It shouldn't be long before this group is picking up on some of the more high level concepts we'll be looking to employ this year."
Last year, Caltech improved its goal differential by 18, due in large part to the team's ability to acclimate itself to Bonafede's system faster thanks to its enhanced experience. This year, the Beavers will look to better their goal differential further and are hopeful the incremental statistical improvements will lead to more wins as the 2019 season gets underway.
Bonafede and the Beavers are set to begin the season this weekend at the Citrus College Tournament. The first game will be played on Saturday, Sept. 7 against Cypress College at 10:15 a.m.