Somewhat unexpectedly, the 2006 UC San Diego Men’s Water Polo team has produced a 21-5 record, solidified itself at No. 5 in the national rankings and notched wins over UCLA, Pepperdine, UC Santa Barbara, UC Irvine and Loyola Marymount among others. One of the central figures in the Tritons’ stellar play has been 6-1 junior Adi Jerkovic. Going into Wednesday’s re-match with UC Irvine, the Palm Desert High School grad has racked up 35 goals and 46 assists, becoming UCSD’s all-time leader in the latter category. He poured in six goals in the Tritons’ signature, 13-12, victory over UCLA. “Adi is a key to both our counterattack and 6-on-5 play,” says Head Coach Denny Harper. “His cross cage shot is one of the best in the college game and the fact that he’s got a great lob shot makes him doubly dangerous from the wing. He’s also one of the nicest kids we’ve ever had in the program.” As his team heads into the crucial home stretch of the season, Jerkovic spent time talking about this year’s squad and what’s ahead.
Q—Can you describe the personality and character of this year’s team?
JERKOVIC—This year’s team is very motivated, hard-working and focused on achieving its goals of winning a conference championship and trying for a national
championship. Each player is respectful of one another and recognizes the
importance of everyone’s contributions.
Q—How is it different from last year’s squad?
JERKOVIC—On paper, many would say this team is much less talented and physically
incomparable to that of last year, but I would say that we have developed into an outstanding TEAM, and we make up for what we lack in size and strength with intelligence and mental toughness. Also, this team is focused on knowing what it takes to win, and doing so one game at a time.
Q—What did you (and the team) learn from last year’s senior class?
JERKOVIC—My teammates and I were fortunate enough to gain the necessary
experience from last year’s squad by playing with, and competing against them in practices, and of course learning from all of their past experiences both in the pool and out.
Q—Did you ever expect this type of season?
JERKOVIC—My expectations for this season were very optimistic and I believe that
we are achieving everything we are capable of. Thus far, this season has exceeded the expectations of many others but the team knows that we have a long way to go before achieving our ultimate goal.
Q—Has your coach, Denny Harper, been different this year or approached the team differently?
JERKOVIC— Denny’s coaching style has not differed much as far as I have known him
and been a part of UCSD water polo. However, all of the players this year seem very trusting of his capabilities and our current success is a definite reflection of his coaching style.
He’s obviously been around a long time and has made some subtle adjustments between this year and last. I think he’s done a great job helping each player with his individual skills and, as a team, brought us into every game really hungry to play.
Q—What has been the most exciting moment of 2006
JERKOVIC—For me, the season’s most exciting moment has to be the home victory
against UCLA, not only because it was such a monumental achievement for our program, but also because of the respect that we have gained throughout collegiate water polo. Not to mention all of the great support that we received from our family, friends, administration, student body and alumni.
Q—From your perspective, what will make the 2006 season a success?
JERKOVIC— I truly believe that the sky is the limit for this year’s squad and our
main goal has to be to bring back a WWPA championship to UCSD. However, my personal goal does not stop there because I think that if this team reaches its true potential at the right time we will definitely be in the hunt for an NCAA Championship.
Q—Offensively, how would you describe your role?
JERKOVIC—Offensively, I think that my role has shifted a bit this year and I think
the adjustments are for the better. I think that many teams consider me to be a primary scorer in our offense, but I think my main role has become distributing the ball to some of our great scorers such as Ty Lackey, Jesse Cassellini and A.J. Kotanjian. I mainly try to get the ball down the pool as quickly as possible and use some of my speed to ignite
Q—Are there advantages to being a left hander in water polo?
JERKOVIC—Being left-handed holds definite advantages because defenders and goalies have to adjust to differences that they don’t normally see with the majority of the other field players. Players get used to guarding opponents on a certain side and sometimes what a lefty does can surprise them, particularly if they don’t know you’re a lefthander.
Q—How did you get started playing water polo?
JERKOVIC—I started playing polo in high school after four years of club swimming. Thanks mostly to friends and coaches that encouraged me to keep playing, I enjoyed water polo from the beginning because of its uniqueness and high level of competitiveness.
Q—What other sports did you play growing up? What other sports do you enjoy
playing and watching now?
JERKOVIC—The only sports I’ve played competitively are water polo, swimming and basketball but I really enjoy a variety of sports, including tennis and soccer.
As far as watching, basketball would have to be No. 1. I like the San Antonio Spurs because they’re so fundamentally sound and play like a real team. There’s no complaining or showboating—they just play to win.
Q—Talk about your family and your upbringing (you can go anywhere you want
with this and I?ll phrase a question to fit the answer)
JERKOVIC—My family (he has a sister in high school) moved here as war refugees from Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1993. I spent most of the time after living in Palm Desert, among other families from the same region. My parents brought me up to be very focused on academics and athletics, and definitely played a great role in helping me find a balance between the two.
One of the biggest differences for me after moving to the U.S. was the school system. The schools were a lot bigger with a lot more kids and a lot more variety in classes and resources. I’d never been around so many other students. I also doubt I would have had the opportunity to get involved in organized sports if we wouldn’t have come here.
Q—Why did you choose to attend UCSD? How have you changed since your arrived as a freshman? In and out of the water?
JERKOVIC—I chose to attend UCSD because of its emphasis on academics, primarily,
but also because of the great history with regards to water polo. Also, of course, because of its great location and friendly environment.
Q—How would you describe each of the four seniors on this year?s team---Kyle
Sutterly, Jeremy Randall, Joe Woodring and Jesse Casellini?
JERKOVIC—Kyle has grown to become one of my favorite guys on the team and has been a great friend, and roommate, ever since I have known him. Jeremy has
also been a great friend and has definitely helped me adapt socially to the college environment. Joe has been a great role model from the beginning and has motivated me to work harder each day in and out of the water. Jesse, along with Joe, has been a great
captain as well as a great friend and mentor throughout my first three years at UCSD. I truly believe that I will remain great friends with each of this year’s seniors when the season concludes.
Q—What was your feeling when UCSD lost to LMU in last year’s WWPA
JERKOVIC—My initial feeling was definite disappointment and a feeling of failure
unlike ever before. However, much of that feeling was felt because of last year’s seniors who worked so hard and did not deserve an unhappy ending such as that one. However, I immediately realized that we would have a chance to avenge that loss soon enough and I believe that this year’s team will help overshadow what happened last year by winning the championship.