The UCSD men’s water polo team, currently ranked 14th in the nation, has battled through a tough schedule with a relatively young team. Driver Ben Miller is one of only three seniors on this year’s squad and has played an important role for the Tritons throughout the season, scoring five goals and adding 14 assists. “Ben’s worked his tail off,” says Head Coach Denny Harper, “and has positioned himself to hopefully make a major contribution at the WWPA Championships.” The Tritons now prepare to host No.3 UCLA this weekend in their final home game of the year. As the team prepares for the Bruins and a WWPA title defense two weeks later in Colorado Springs, Miller took some time to answer questions about his season and career, as well as what lies ahead, both in and out of the water.
Q: With your college career heading into the final stretch, do the past five years seem like a blur?
MILLER: Without a doubt. I remember coming in as a freshman with [fellow seniors] Curtis [Williamson] and Simon [Schafer] as if it was yesterday. There are moments of nostalgia, especially in hell week, when we don’t even need to say anything to each other...we all just seem to recollect the same memories from our early years because we spent every waking minute together.
Q: How has your role, as one of only three seniors on the team, changed this season?
MILLER: My role hasn’t changed a lot this year as far as my game is concerned. I haven’t been a real big goal scorer in my career, but my speed and quickness allows me to get the drop on a lot of players in transition. This year, I was fortunate to see some starting minutes, but I feel my real specialty is coming off the bench with guys like Sidd [Menon] and Simon and earning ejections and making the other team seriously regret not being faster and stronger. A lot of us have become experts at playing a sort of shock and awe type of role for the program. We embrace the physicality and challenge.
Q: What does this year’s Triton team need to work on in hopes of repeating last season’s success in the WWPA Tournament?
MILLER: We need to relax and convert our six-on-five opportunities. On every team I’ve been on, we out-draw everybody in our conference by far in ejections earned. A lot of the reason we’ve had such a hard time getting started this year has been our inability to convert these opportunities. It comes with experience and confidence. There is no doubt in my mind that when we convert these opportunities and play good defense, we are more than capable of defending our title.
Q: To this point, what has been the most memorable moment during your men’s water polo career?
MILLER: The most memorable moment for me was in the locker room after we won the WWPA Championship last year. It was the first time I was able to be part of a championship team in my life. I felt proud to bring the title back where it belonged for all the guys I’d played with before, my brother [former Triton goalie Dave Miller], and for Denny. The look on Denny’s face after that game and on the faces of all my teammates is what will stick with me forever. We all knew that the hard work had paid off, we were finally allowed to feel proud of ourselves for proving everybody wrong, because we weren’t really expected to do much that year. That’s why I’m not worried about our team this year. We have a lot of fight left in us.
Q: With UCLA coming to play at Canyonview this weekend, what memories does that bring up for you in regards to previous match-ups with the Bruins?
MILLER: It brings to mind my second most memorable moment thus far. Our victory over UCLA last year was phenomenal and it let us know we were capable of doing a lot. I look forward to having that same feeling after Saturday’s game, regardless of what the scoreboard reads. UCLA is a great team, maybe the best in the nation, and they will attest to the fact that everybody needs to be careful about coming into our house. They will undoubtedly come fired up as will we. It will be a good experience for both teams in preparing for the playoffs.
Q: What area of your game have you worked the hardest at to improve over the course of the season?
MILLER: Well it’s undoubtedly been challenging for me to get my shot up and running again before this season started. I’ve had some bad shoulder problems over the years, so maintaining my strength and mobility have been challenging. Currently, they are both attached and I can throw the ball hard when I need to, so all is well. A shot is something that you are constantly working on and trying to improve, so as long as I’m healthy, I should keep improving.
Q: Did you or any of your teammates suffer property damage or get evacuated during the recent San Diego fires?
MILLER: In addition to [Associate Head Coach] Brad Kreutzkamp, Peter [Gresham] and Mark [Stemler] had to evacuate, but there was no property damage if I recall correctly. Mark was able to stay with family here in La Jolla and Peter actually helped house some ten people and some pets that had to evacuate from farther East before his family was given the order to get out of there.
Q: How did the team practice and stay prepared for the upcoming games during the campus closure?
MILLER: It wasn’t easy. We play a unique sport where finding a place to play isn’t as easy as going to a park with a baseball diamond, soccer field, or basketball courts. Denny emailed us dry land workouts which we conducted as a team. That was interesting as well, if you can picture 20 guys crammed into a living room and kitchen doing jumping jacks, running in place, push-ups, and every other imaginable exercise. Fortunately, the administration up at LMU was kind enough to let us use their facilities for two days before our road game, which helped us work out the kinks a little bit.
Q: Your brother, Dave Miller, was a goalie and co-captain for the UCSD men’s water polo team when you were a freshman in the 2004-05 season. You play different positions, but did he ever give you any important water polo advice and how did he help you with the transition onto the team?
MILLER: Dave is an amazing water polo player. He’s an even better brother. He understands the game as well as anybody I’ve ever met, which is probably why Torrey Pines High School put him in a coaching position.
Being a goalie, he has helped me a lot with my shot. He tells me what will get him to jump and what kinds of motions throw him off. It lets me get into other goalies’ heads a little bit I guess. He comes to every home game and stays afterwards to give me feedback.
Dave is the type of guy you can’t help but love. He helped me coming into the program because it’s easy to get down and worry that you might not make it through the training. But if he could do it...I could do it. We helped each other a lot in that way I suppose. It also helped because no matter how much fun the other older guys had with me in the water, I knew that the best and worst would always come from Dave, so I had nothing to fear. All the guys on the team are sort of like brothers in that sense: we challenge each other, we respect each other, admire each other’s abilities, and take good care of each other. Without a doubt, Dave has been my rock in my time here at San Diego.
Q: As a Political Science major, what have been some of the most interesting classes/teachers you’ve had at UCSD?
MILLER: A few of my favorite classes have been in the Poli 142 series. Victor Magagna is an incredibly knowledgeable man and a great professor as well. Also, John Stoessinger is world renowned for his publications and probably has the most incredible life story I’ve ever heard. If you ever have a chance to talk with any of these men don’t pass it up.
Q: What do your post-graduate plans include?
MILLER: The first thing I plan on doing after graduation is get my shoulders fixed up, then taking a two week nap. I’m in the process of applying to a variety of different jobs, and I’m thinking about law school still. I’d like to do something that enables me to travel and still earn money. South America sounds nice. I try not to worry about that stuff too much. I’m a firm believer that once you know what you want, it’s only a matter of what you’re willing to do to get it.
Q: What will you miss most about your time at UCSD?
MILLER: I’m going to miss it all. The first thing that comes to mind is the friendships...polo guys and the other friends I’ve been fortunate enough to make. To be honest, after that I’d have to say it’s the access to all the great facilities we have here. Everything ranging from the libraries, to the pools, to the gyms, to the career opportunities and abroad programs we have here. If there is one piece of advice I’d give to the rest of UCSD students it would be to embrace your workload and get lost in the opportunities we have here. We are really lucky to have all the cool stuff here on campus...take advantage of it while you still can!