LA JOLLA, Calif. - Last year, senior Clark Petersen was part of an unorthodox move by UCSD Men’s Water Polo Coach Denny Harper. A two-year starter for one of the most successful Triton programs, Petersen and five senior teammates were redshirted for the 2004 season and watched while the squad went 20-12, finishing second in the Western Water Polo Assn. (WWPA). Now, Petersen and his fellow redshirts return for a much-anticipated final season which starts, Sept. 4-5, at the annual UCSD Triton Invitational. First team All-WWPA as a junior and a second team pick as a sophomore, Petersen typically fills the “stopper” role defensively for UCSD. “Clark’s one of our best all-around players and has been a real key part of our program for several years,” says Harper. “He’s all about the team and that’s exemplified by the fact that he and Steve Jendrusina will be coming off the bench this year to help us best utilize our great depth. There are a lot of guys who would have trouble with that, but not Clark. It’s going to really add to our balance and gives us a ton of possibilities.” The 6-4 San Diego native (University City High School) took time recently to talk about last year and the upcoming season.
Q- What was last year like—practicing, watching the team, but unable to really be a part of it competitively?
PETERSEN- Last year watching the team compete was really hard. I don't know how many times I wanted to stop redshirting and jump in and play. The toughest part about it was practicing against the team but not being able to travel on the road.
But I just kept telling myself that it was not my time and my job for the year was to help those guys prepare for the upcoming games. As hard as it was watching from the sideline, I’m glad I did it and I was so happy and proud of all the guys that stepped up for the team last year.
Q- What did you and the other redshirts do during the 2004 season and between seasons?
PETERSEN -All of the redshirts worked out together everyday. We did everything together, especially in the pool. The most important thing we did during the season was play together everyday.
Everyday in practice we would go against the team. Us playing together was really important. Playing together for five years is something most teams can't say they did. Then, in January, when the season was over we started lifting weights everyday, all six of us, for a couple hours a day. We also swam three days a week to stay in shape.
Q- What was the overall thinking of the coaching staff and players regarding the redshirting of the senior class?
PETERSEN - All six of us were planning to be in school for at least one more quarter. A big reason for redshirting, from the players’ perspective, was that we get a chance to not only stay in college for another quarter but play water polo while taking a relatively light load of classes. It’s the closest we will get to being professional athletes.
From a strategic standpoint it probably gives us the best chance to compete with the top teams in the country. We’re hoping the redshirt year will reduce the gap between us and the top couple of teams in the nation and, hopefully, allow us to be more competitive than in years past.
Q-How has this pre-season differed from others?
PETERSEN - This preseason was different from others because we did not need to spend time conditioning as much and we didn't have to work on simple team skills such as offense or defense.
Instead, we have been able to spend more time on advanced strategy and individual skills such as shooting or individual defense and, more importantly, 6-on-5 and 5-on-6. We were able to get a head start on power plays. In years past we haven't been as successful as we would have liked, so getting started early will hopefully pay off this upcoming season.
Q-How would you evaluate this year's team--strengths, weaknesses, etc.?
PETERSEN - This year I believe we have all the right parts. First and foremost, most of us have been playing together now for four years and there are a lot of veterans on the team. That is one of the most important things in any sport. Teams that are successful typically have a lot of veterans and know how to stay composed in pressure situations.
Another strength we have is that we are all well-conditioned spend a lot of time lifting weights and swimming. We love to get out on the counter attack and that’s one place the strength and conditioning pays off.
We also play pretty good team defense. Since we have been together for so long we all share a brain, know our roles defensively and hardly ever leave a teammate out to dry.
As I mentioned, one of our weaknesses has been man-up situations. In years past, our conversion rate has not been as high as it should be, but hopefully, the early start will provide extra focus and our success rate will improve.
Q- Where has your own game improved the most over the past year?
PETERSEN -I think I have improved my individual defense. I feel as if I am one of the better perimeter defenders on the team and often have the responsibility of guarding the opposing teams’ better players.
I’ve had the chance to guard Olympians like Tony Azevedo and I think that has helped me a lot. Coach Harper compared me to Jason Boettner (former UCSD standout) as some one who goes head-to-head against the best on the other team. I am a firm believer that defense wins championships. Therefore, I take a lot of pride in my defense.
Q- Give us a couple of words that describe each of your redshirt teammates.
PETERSEN -Brandon Borso—quick, restless, energized. Steve Jendrusina—vocal, strong, talented. Jon Hopkins—aggressive, competitive. Travis Boettner—gifted, unpredictable, hilarious. Kevin Smoker—relaxed, incredible leg strength.
Q- You chose to stay home for college---how has that worked out?
PETERSEN - Staying in San Diego has never been an issue. Some people say that everyone needs to leave home to go to school, but I was never one of those people. Being here has been great. My family is able to come to games and it’s nice being able to drive 10 minutes to go home and get away from it all.
Q- What are the most positive things about UCSD (polo and non-polo) that the average person wouldn't know?
PETERSEN - It’s got great people. Everyone is friendly and very intelligent. People here will be important people in the future.
Another thing is that UCSD has a great athletic program. The directors are all really into the sports program and do whatever they can to help. Also, all of the sports teams are really competitive and though UCSD is not D-I, there are still great teams and athletes at this school.
Q- How would you rate Denny Harper as a coach and what separates him from other collegiate water polo coaches?
PETERSEN - I think Denny is a great coach. He understands the game, understands his players and knows how to maximize his players’ talents. A good coach knows how to get the best from each of his players and knows how to use them to the team's advantage.
I think he rates as one of the top five coaches in collegiate water polo. He definitely has the experience in coaching and knows how to win. He’s won, I think, 13 conference championships with the men’s team and I don't even know how many national championships he won while coaching the UCSD women. I hope we can step up and deliver one for him this season.
Q- Does the senior group do things together outside of water polo?
PETERSEN - The seniors do everything together, especially the redshirts. It’s all about strength in numbers. We all take classes together, lift together, swim together, hang out in Price Center together. The best thing about this team is that we have no scholarships, we play for fun and that can be a huge advantage.
Outside of water polo we do a lot of things together as well. We go out on the weekends, hang out together, we are even occasionally all together in the library.
Q- Do you foresee any water polo in your future after this year?
PETERSEN - I don't know if I will play in the future. I would love to be involved with our alumni club team, Sunset. I have been playing for nine years now, so playing competitively is something I will have to seriously consider.
There are a lot of other things I would like to do in the future. We’ll have to see what this season holds and then I’ll know if I want to play anymore competitively.
Q- What is your major, when will you be graduating and what plans do you have after graduation—short and long term?
PETERSEN -My major is political science with an emphasis in international relations. I have already walked, but I officially get my diploma in December when I am completely done with school.
After school is done, I plan on traveling to New Zealand for a month to see my cousins and then to Hawaii for awhile. I would like to go to law school and hopefully work for the government someday, but I also enjoy life guarding at the beach and will definitely consider doing that in the future.
Q-What are some of your personal interests outside of water polo?
PETERSEN -I love going to the beach and spending time in the ocean. But my favorite thing in the world is snowboarding. I love the mountains and enjoy going to our family cabin in Mammoth.
Snowboarding is the best. I also like traveling. I’ve been to many places in the United States and just enjoy seeing and doing new things.
Q- What have been the highlights of your collegiate water polo career?
PETERSEN -The single greatest highlight of my career has been the friendships I have made with all of my teammates, especially the seniors. Nine of us came in together as strangers and now we will leave as almost brothers. Each one of those guys means the world to me.
Another highlight for me has been playing in front of large crowds. Its an awesome feeling having hundreds of people at the games.
Q-What will make the sacrifice of a redshirt year worth it?
PETERSEN -I think if I can look back on the year and say that I gave all my heart to this team, regardless of the outcome, the redshirt year will have been worth it.
Winning is great and I hope we are successful, however, just being in college for another year, being with the team and developing better friends will make it worth it.