At 6-2, 200, Jon Hopkins is hardly a prototypical collegiate two-meter player. But giving away inches and pounds to the behemoths defending the front of the goal has not stopped the Coronado native from becoming an offensive star at the NCAA’s highest level of play. Helping lead the Tritons to a 20-6 record and a No. 6 national ranking this fall, Hopkins has rung up 65 goals, giving him 223 for his UCSD career, third on the all-time list. Earlier this season, he became UCSD’s all-time assist leader. “Jon’s having an outstanding year and has become a real handful for people to deal with at two-meters” says veteran Head Coach Denny Harper. “He’s scoring goals in ways that are really amazing. Clearly, he’s one of the most talented players we’ve ever had and he’s the type of guy who brings ‘big games’ to big games. He’s playing like a first team All-American.” The 22-year-old senior took time recently to reflect on his career and take a look at the remainder of the 2005 campaign.
Q-Has the reality of your senior season coming to an end hit home yet?
HOPKINS-Not really. The other day I did find myself thinking that there are just a few games left before post-season and the playoffs begin.
My collegiate career may be coming to an end, but I plan to continue playing at the club level so it won’t be an absolute finish. But no, it hasn’t hit me yet.
Q-Last year, you were one of a group of seniors who redshirted to focus on the 2005 season. Was that worth it?
HOPKINS-Yeah. I feel like everything’s coming together at the right time. I feel real good physically. The year off helped get me in much better shape and I think it shows in my game.
Q-What have been the highlights of your career at UCSD?
HOPKINS-I think the best part about it has been the friendships I’ve made. In my freshman year, I thought a lot about what it might have been like to have gone to another school but now, I couldn’t see having gone anywhere else.
UCSD has been such a good experience overall. I would never go back and change that decision. I think the highlight of my playing career here is still to come.
Q-What would you like your legacy to be with UCSD water polo?
HOPKINS-That I was a team player and made others around me better.
Q-Your brother, Thomas, plays at Stanford. What are the games like when UCSD and Stanford hook up? Is it something the two of you discuss?
HOPKINS-The last time we played Stanford, I actually had to match up with him. That was really fun. We play different positions, so usually I don’t guard him.
We don’t really talk about water polo at all when we get together—at least nothing in depth. It’s a chance to talk about other things.
I think my parents are more into water polo than my brother or myself. My sister, Elizabeth, plays college water polo too so they’re really into it. My mother is always on the different websites and telling me everything that’s being said about UCSD. I try to block her out—I don’t want to hear it.
I think my parents are pulling for UCSD to win it all this year because Stanford won my sophomore year.
Q-You played tennis in high school with your brother at a very high level. What was that like?
HOPKINS-Well, my dad is the head tennis pro in Coronado so he started us young, about six or seven. We never played together until my junior year in high school. I always played doubles and he usually played singles. Plus we couldn’t agree on anything and always argued on the court.
We finally decided to try it and my junior year finished second in the CIF doubles championship. We won it the next year.
Q-Water polo and tennis seem like an odd combination of sports. Are there any carryover skills?
HOPKINS-My parents were both physical education majors and had us playing different sports all year round. Sometimes we were playing three or four at a time.
Some of the team sports, like soccer, helped when I started playing water polo. Seeing the different areas and knowing how and where to move are kind of the same. As far as tennis and water polo, I think the hand-eye coordination is the same and playing tennis helps my water polo in that respect.
I also swam growing up which is how I got into water polo.
Q-What was life like growing up on Coronado island?
HOPKINS-We moved to Coronado from Hawaii when I was about eight—from one island to another. There are a lot of building laws on Coronado that keep big business from taking over, so it’s always kind of stayed the same and has an old time feel.
I was kind of sheltered but didn’t realize it until I went to college.
I was fortunate that I picked the right sport for where I lived. The Coronado high school water polo program is great and I started in the system when I was in about sixth grade. It was a small school but we competed with all the top schools in the country.
The size was also great because we were able to play all sports. I might not have had that opportunity at a bigger school.
Q-How have you grown in your time at UCSD?
HOPKINS-As far as water polo, I’ve definitely become a much better swimmer. When I first got to UCSD, I was almost drowning compared to the other players.
Personally, I feel I’ve matured a lot and become more independent, although I still have no idea what I’m going to do when I graduate.
Q-Is there anything you would change about your five years at UCSD?
HOPKINS-I probably would have figured out my major (economics) much sooner. As it is, I’ve taken a lot of classes I didn’t need. It could have been much easier and probably would have helped my GPA.
I would also have started lifting harder sooner. This last year has really been helpful.
Q-What distinguishes the UCSD water polo program from others?
HOPKINS-One thing, obviously, is that we don’t have scholarships but we’re still able to compete with the best teams in the nation. One of the benefits of not having scholarships is that there’s no team infighting about who’s getting what. I think it makes us closer and stronger.
Q-Talk about your coach, Denny Harper. How would you describe his coaching style? His relationship with his players?
HOPKINS-I’ve gotten a lot closer to Denny as a coach and friend over the years. At first I was afraid of him and kept my distance.
He’s an excellent coach. He always knows exactly where we are as a team emotionally. He has a good sense of the team and that helps a lot.
He definitely makes it fun. It’s tough but I think all of our players really enjoy playing.
Q-Who is the most underrated player on this year’s team?
HOPKINS-I would have to say it’s probably Chris Finegold. He got recognized last year with some postseason honors but we play against the best in the country and he’s as good as any two-meter defender anywhere.
He doesn’t have some of the flashy offensive stats that get noticed, but he really is the defensive stopper for us.
Q-There are 12 seniors on this year’s team. What does that mean for 2006?
HOPKINS-I think the program will be fine. We have a lot of talented guys just waiting for their chance to step into the limelight. It will be a young team that might start off slow, but they’ll do well.
Q-You have no idea at all about what you’re going to do after you’re finished with school?
HOPKINS-I’ve been doing some tutoring at the high school level and I’ve given thought to possibly starting my own business in that area. I’m also interested in commercial real estate appraisal, so we’ll just have to see.
Q-Do you plan to stay in the San Diego area?
HOPKINS-I’ll definitely be staying in San Diego unless I get some kind of crazy job offer that I just can’t say “no” to. A good chunk of the guys on our team are going to stick around here. It would be hard to leave everyone behind.
Q-What will you remember most about your senior teammates?
HOPKINS-Probably the time away from the pool—just hanging around. I think that will stand out more than any game or practice. The weekends, the time between hell week practices—nothing big, just talking and passing the time.
Q-What’s your vision for the end of the season?
HOPKINS-I see us going 3-0 in our last three regular season games. The WWPA Tournament will be tough. UC Davis is as good as they’ve been since I’ve been at UCSD and LMU has been at the top the last several years. If any team besides UCSD or those two win, it would be a real upset. I expect us to get it done.
The WWPA champion will be likely be seeded No. 3 at the NCAA Championship, which is at Bucknell in Pennsylvania. We’d match up with the No. 2 seed in the semi-finals and when you get there, it’s anybody’s ball game.
We’ve got the skill, experience and it will come down to who brings their best game that day. Our odds of winning would be as good as anybody’s.
PREVIOUS Q&A ARTICLES
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