A solid performer (28 goals/18 assists) in his first two years with the UC San Diego men’s water polo team, junior Joe Dietrich figures to play an even more significant role in 2013. Triton head coach Denny Harper feels the 6-foot-2 Lafayette native could be ready to have a breakout season. “Joe has been an excellent two-meter defender who also has a lot of offensive weapons,” noted Harper. “He’s been a steady threat from the perimeter, but we’re looking for him to be very involved posting up this year. If he gets more consistency on the offensive end, he could be a really key player for us.”
With this fall’s opener looming, Dietrich spent time talking about preseason training, his progress as a player, and performing in front of a capacity crowd at home. No. 11 UCSD opens the 2013 campaign by hosting the 11-team Triton Invitational at the Canyonview Aquatic Center this Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7-8. Click here for the complete schedule.
Q: Your team is just coming off its proverbial preseason “hell week.” What are your thoughts before, during and after this roughly 10 days of two-a-day sessions?
DIETRICH: For me, it is just about making it through the first four days. They are always the hardest because it’s six hours of pool time and can be draining. So on those days, I just practice and recover and don’t do anything else. Once we get to the beach workouts, then we start to have more fun with competitions and competing against each other, so it makes the practices more bearable.
Q: As this is your third time through, have you found it becomes easier by the year?
DIETRICH: I wouldn’t say it becomes easier, but you start to get the routine and you know what is coming. As a freshman, you are just terrified every morning for what is coming, but now I know what to expect and can adjust to that. The coaches do have a way of keeping you on your toes though by changing things up.
Q: What was your most vivid memory from preseason training during your freshman year?
DIETRICH: Well, I had an interesting freshman “hell week.” I was in the hospital with tonsillitis in the days before I came to school, so I didn’t actually participate in most of it, but my most vivid memory is my first day back, in the water doing a drill where I was in a leg battle with senior goalie David Morton. He more or less tried to drown me to win and I remember thinking, “Wow, I am not going to survive against these guys.“
Q: One of the more interesting aspects of the preseason is the daily beach workouts during the second week. Describe what that’s like and what are a few of the notable experiences you’ve had this year?
DIETRICH: The beach workouts give us a different mind-set, I think. We know that we aren’t going to be playing at all, so we expect to just train. Denny always emphasizes that he wants us to compete. We hear that every day during the workouts, and it really does get more fun when everyone is together suffering through the workout.
My favorite experience this year was at our South Mission Beach workout because two seniors from last year, Chris Barton and Lance Curtiss, came and they got a head start on the ocean swim, and we were supposed to catch them. I got out of the water the same time as Chris and had to sprint to try and beat him. Also, being surprised by the alumni group with a BBQ instead of the scheduled Coronado swim was pretty great.
Q: Where do you feel you’ve become a better player between your freshman season and today?
DIETRICH: I think the biggest strides I have made are just in consistency. My freshman year, I was more timid, and now, I have more confidence and that lets me be more consistent in my shooting, particularly. I know Denny is always trying to get me to be more consistent with my shot and I think that the more confidence I get, the better I am. I used to get into my own head a lot but I have learned to just ignore it if I start to doubt myself.
Q: What are your feelings about the 2012 season as a whole? The second-place finish at the WWPA Championship?
DIETRICH:Obviously, losing in the championship game (to Air Force) was a major letdown, but we did have a great season leading up to then. I thought that we really competed, and if we played that game 10 times, we would win nine of them.
For me personally, I thought I made a stride from my freshman year, but I felt like I took a step back from how I was playing the summer leading up to last year. So it gave me a little motivation to keep taking steps forward.
Q: This year’s Triton team will be facing some big challenges. You graduated five seniors, including four-year starters Brian Donohoe and John Butler, and will also be without a pair of key players, 2012 WWPA Player of the Year Josh Stiling and Luke Syka, who are both redshirting. Can UCSD still be a contender in the 2013 WWPA race?
DIETRICH:We can definitely be contenders. I think we are still the team to beat. One of our downfalls last year was maybe a little too much dependency on Josh, and playing without him gives us a chance to be a more rounded team. I know it is impossible to replace the reigning MVP, but I think we have the personnel to step up and make us dangerous.
Q: How do you see those roster adjustments changing your role?
DIETRICH:Well, my first two seasons, I was primarily a defensive player who guarded two meters, but I know that if we are going to be successful this year, I am going to need to be more assertive offensively. I have had plenty of conversations with Denny about looking for my shot instead of being more of a passer, and I think that I just need to be more aggressive when I have the ball.
Q: UCSD is well-known for being among the national attendance leaders in men’s water polo. What’s it like playing a big night game at Canyonview Pool in front of a packed house?
DIETRICH:There is nothing like playing in that home opener. I came from an area where we did get some good attendance for our games, but playing against LMU in these home openers has been crazy. There are so many people out there. It really makes you want to make an impact on the game, and I know that other teams are intimidated by it because they don’t play in front of these crowds. (Editor's Note: UCSD hosts LMU on Wednesday, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m.)
Q: Your coach, Denny Harper, is a veteran of the collegiate game. How does he relate to the modern college water polo player?
DIETRICH:Denny has been through every coaching experience he will ever need to, and it makes him pretty unflappable. He adjusts every year and can relay all of his experience to us so that no situation is unexpected. He also does a great job of balancing certain aspects with Usha (associate head coach Matt Ustaszewski) because he played more recently and provides a different perspective.
Q: To date, what’s been the highlight of your UCSD water polo career? Why?
DIETRICH:I would still say it is being at the NCAA Championship my freshman year. Having your name called there was an awesome experience that I definitely will always remember.
Q: What’s the best thing about being a student-athlete at UCSD? The hardest?
DIETRICH:The best part is the respect you get being a student at UCSD and still spending as much time as we do at our sport. I think it gets us a lot of respect. The hardest is trying to balance the schoolwork and practices. It can get overwhelming at times, but it forces you to be organized and prepared.
Q: What’s the toughest class you’ve taken?
DIETRICH:Calculus 20B, hands down. I thought I was good at math coming into college, but I was definitely wrong. I was just thrown under the bus when I tried to figure out that class, and I tried harder than I ever have just to scrape by with a C. Needless to say, that is one reason I am a political science major now.
Q: Speaking of your major, who is your favorite political figure in American history? If you were President of the United States, what would be your first order of business?
DIETRICH: My favorite political figure in American history would probably be Abraham Lincoln. In all the history classes I have taken, it amazes me how he was able to be so progressive in his time. I think he was the perfect man for the job, and without him, America would not have been able to right itself for a long time.
If I was President, I would try to resolve the education crisis in America. Schools are getting worse and costing more, and it is setting all kids my age back in their ability to make a living when we get older.
Q: What kind of plans do you have after graduation?
DIETRICH: I would like to go to law school after I graduate. My mom is a lawyer, and it has always been an interesting profession to me that I think I would love. I don’t have many long-term plans. I am just trying to survive college.
Q: In terms of water polo, where do you hope to be better in 2013?
DIETRICH: I hope to be a better scorer this season. I need to be consistent, like I said earlier, but I also want to still progress defensively and be a shutdown two-meter defender.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Josh Cohen (Men's Soccer) August 23, 2013
Sara McCutchan (Women's Volleyball) August 9, 2013
Kellen Levy (Men's Cross Country/Track & Field) July 26, 2013
Izzy Pozurama (Women's Soccer) July 8, 2013
Colin Truex (Women's Crew Head Coach) June 28, 2013