LA JOLLA, Calif. — A cloudy sky on the first morning of practice couldn’t block out the optimism oozing from the Tritons.
The 2018 University of California San Diego men’s water polo season is officially in motion, as the Tritons assembled at Canyonview Aquatic Center on Thursday to begin their quest toward winning another conference championship.
“Starting a new season for us, and everybody for that matter, is always an exciting time,” said UC San Diego head coach Denny Harper, who is entering his 39th season at the helm. “Nobody has lost any games yet and everyone is optimistic about what’s in front of them.
“We return a really strong group of kids and have a good incoming class. We can see we’ve got something special brewing here.”
Although it’s a new year, there’s already a strong sense of familiarity throughout the team from working out and spending time together in recent months.
“I think we’re all ready to go,” said senior Kevin Asplund. “We’ve been going through a long offseason and everyone is ready to hit the ground running.
“We didn’t have too much of a break before this, so we’re ready to start a new season and bring a championship back to campus.”
But there’s still plenty of work to be done. According to Harper, early-season practices often center around ensuring players’ conditioning level is where it needs to be once games begin on Sept. 1.
“Water polo is definitely a sport of attrition,” said Harper. “Mistakes are made when you get tired.
“We want to get these guys quickly to a point where they’re never holding back and they can play hard all the time.”
The players realize the need to be in top physical shape, and are aware much of their success depends on the ability to fight through fatigue.
“It’s about building a base to carry us through the season and beat all the teams that come at us,” said Asplund. “It’s all mental and we’ve got to get each other through it.
“It’s not going to be easy, but that’s what we have each other for.”
Aside from the challenge of defeating teams ahead of them in the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) rankings — which will be released for the first time this season on Aug. 22 — the ultimate goal of winning the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) Tournament championship and securing a berth in the NCAA Championships is in their sights.
After claiming the WWPA crown in 2015, the Tritons have suffered close losses in the tournament championship game in each of the past two seasons.
“We’re all about winning our conference,” said Harper. “That’s certainly a primary (goal) for us, because if that happens, we have the privilege of playing in the NCAA Championships.”