LA JOLLA, Calif. — Skyler Munatones was born to be in the water.
His father, Steven, played college water polo at Harvard before going on to become a professional marathon swimmer, head coach of the USA National Open Water Swimming Team, swimming author and inductee into the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame for which he currently serves on its Board of Directors.
Munatones’ aunt, Stephanie Sharp, played water polo and was on the swimming team at Princeton.
He even has another aunt who was on the US National Team with the wife of UC San Diego head coach Denny Harper.
But even though he was born into a family of water-sport enthusiasts, Munatones’ water polo career almost never happened.
“When I first started playing, I hated it,” Munatones said prior to Wednesday afternoon’s practice at Canyonview Aquatic Center. “But I figured I wasn’t that bad of a swimmer, and I thought it’s a lot more interesting than (just) swimming since I got to be a lot more creative.
“But it’s a family thing for sure.”
The good genes have paid off. The junior from Huntington Beach currently ranks second on the team with 39 points on 21 goals and 12 assists.
He was third on the team last season with 54 points (25 goals, 29 assists) and was the team’s second-leading scorer as a freshman with 60 points (34 goals, 26 assists).
Harper, who has coached over 1,000 games in his illustrious career at UC San Diego, is proud of what Munatones has accomplished so far in three years on campus.
“Skyler is the typical type of player I’ve had here at UC San Diego — undersized, overlooked, bright enough to be admitted (into school) and bright enough to understand our program will make you great,” said Harper. “He’s the epitome of the kind of kid that overachieves at UC San Diego.”
Despite the growth he’s shown in the pool, Munatones doesn’t believe his role has changed much within the team over the last three seasons.
“It’s not a different role, it’s just a matter of somebody needing to step up and take a bigger role,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman or sophomore, everybody should be able to lead.
“I think I’ve done that so far this year and other people have stepped up too.”
The No. 11-ranked Tritons head to Northern California this weekend for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Invitational hosted by Stanford, as they take on No. 8 Pepperdine on Friday beginning at 2:50 p.m. It will be their first of four games this weekend.
It’s also a rematch of a UC San Diego victory earlier this season, with the Tritons defeating the Waves, 14-11, in the GCC vs. WWPA Clash in Irvine, Calif., on Sept. 8.
Munatones knows Pepperdine will be hungry for revenge this time around.
“We haven’t talked about anything except the (Pepperdine) game, so we’ll just focus on Pepperdine and whatever happens, we’ll move on to the next game,” said Munatones. “We had a really good offensive game (in the first meeting against Pepperdine), but we died down in the fourth quarter.
“We know they’re going to be mad, so it’s going to be a battle for all four quarters.”
Meanwhile, Harper acknowledged the Tritons still haven't fully gotten over their loss to California Baptist last week, and the direction of this weekend’s tournament hinges on the opening game against Pepperdine.
“We’re not over it,” Harper said, referring to the 10-9 loss to California Baptist on Oct. 5. “We won’t be (over it) until we play them again. CBU has been hunting us for a while, and they outplayed us.
“The Pepperdine game is going to set the tone — win or lose. If we win, we’ll be playing nothing but teams ranked ahead of us. If we don’t, we’re going to be hunted the rest of the weekend. But I think we’re going to respond well.”
UC SAN DIEGO VITALS
• Overall: 10-3
• WWPA: 3-1
• Home: 6-2
• Road: 3-1
• Neutral: 1-0
• Ranking (CWPA): T-8
• Against Ranked Teams: 6-3
• Current Streak: Loss 1
GET TO KNOW THE 2018 TRITONS
UC San Diego returns six seniors and welcomes seven newcomers, six of which are freshmen. Eight of the team's nine-leading scorers from 2017 are back on campus, led by top scorer and ACWPC All-American Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt. In addition, redshirt junior goalkeeper Jack Turner rejoins the Tritons after missing the entire 2017 season due to injury. Meanwhile, junior Skyler Munatones, senior Alessandro Valania, junior Cooper Milton, senior captain Kevin Asplund, junior Noah Carniglia, sophomore Kacper Langiewicz, senior Carson Ivancovich, redshirt sophomore Jack Ranj and redshirt junior goalkeeper Sam Thompson remain from last season's squad, while senior captain Cole Martinez and junior transfer Myles Martinez are also expected to have a big role.
Twenty-six of the 29 Tritons on the roster are California natives, with the exception of junior Alessandro Valania from Savona, Italy as well as freshmen brothers Gonzalo Rivera and Jorge Rivera from Madrid, Spain. Local products include Kacper Langiewicz (San Marcos/Mission Hills HS), Cooper Milton (San Diego/Cathedral Catholic HS), Cole Martinez (San Diego/La Jolla HS), Myles Martinez (San Diego/La Jolla HS), Collin Sullivan (Escondido/San Pasqual HS), Jack Ranj (San Diego/Westview HS), Konstantin Karlov (San Diego/Torrey Pines HS) and Bennett Kienast (Carlsbad/Carlsbad HS).
TRITONS PICKED SECOND IN WWPA COACHES' POLL
The UC San Diego men's water polo team was predicted to finish second in the 2018 Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) standings according to a preseason poll of the league's coaches. It is the second-consecutive season UC San Diego was picked to finish second.
2018 WWPA MEN'S PRESEASON COACHES POLL
1. UC Davis, 49 points (7 first-place votes)
2. UC San Diego, 42 (1)
T-3. Cal Baptist, 34
T-3. Loyola Marymount, 34
5. Air Force, 22
6. Santa Clara, 20
7. Concordia, 16
8. Fresno Pacific, 7
ALL-TIME AGAINST THE WAVES
UC San Diego is 7-47-1 all-time against Pepperdine. The Tritons earned a 14-11 victory over the Waves in their previous meeting this season at the GCC vs. WWPA Challenge Cup on on Sept. 8, and have won two of the last three meetings overall.
HEAD COACH DENNY HARPER
UC San Diego head coach Denny Harper is in his 39th season leading the Tritons and enters the 2018 campaign with a career record of 643-478-4 (.576). An 18-time WWPA Coach of the Year and 15-time ACWPC National Coach of the Year honoree, Harper has led the Tritons to 18 WWPA titles and 14 appearances in the NCAA Championship. Last season, he was named the ACWPC Division II Coach of the Year for the seventh-straight year.
UC San Diego finished the 2017 season at 11-14 overall, highlighted by a runner-up performance in the WWPA Tournament. The Tritons, the tournament's No. 2 seed with a 6-1 regular-season league record, defeated Santa Clara and California Baptist to advance to the WWPA Championship game against UC Davis. UC San Diego fought hard against No. 8-ranked UC Davis, but ultimately fell by a score of 9-6.
In 2017, the Tritons won nine games against teams either ranked or receiving votes in the Collegiate Water Polo Association Top-20 poll throughout the course of the season. UC San Diego was ranked as high as No. 12 nationally and faced a total of 11 teams ranked in the top-10.
Head coach Denny Harper was named the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC) Division II Coach of the Year, while senior Arman Momdzhyan was tabbed Player of the Year. In addition, goalkeeper Sam Thompson and utility Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt each earned All-America accolades.
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Following this week's MPSF Invitational, the Tritons return home to take on Concordia University (Irvine) on Friday Oct. 19 at 6 p.m.
About UC San Diego Athletics
With 30 national team championships, nearly 150 individual titles and the top student-athlete graduation rate among Division II institutions in the United States, the UC San Diego intercollegiate athletics program annually ranks as one of the most successful in the country. The Tritons sponsor 23 intercollegiate sport programs that compete on the NCAA Division I and II levels and, in summer 2020, will transition into full Division I status as a member of the Big West Conference. UC San Diego student-athletes exemplify the academic ideals of one of the world's preeminent institutions, graduating at an average rate of 91 percent. A total of 80 Tritons have earned Academic All-America honors, while 36 have earned prestigious NCAA Post Graduate Scholarships. In competition, more than 1,300 UC San Diego student-athletes have earned All-America honors.
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