For the past three years, 6-foot-5 Torrey Pines product Peter Gresham has been a steady performer for the UC San Diego men's water polo team. After racking up a combined 32 goals and 31 assists over the last two seasons, Gresham enters his senior campaign as a co-captain, starting two-meter defender and ready to be an even bigger force for the 10th-ranked Tritons. "Peter has consistently gotten better every year and we're looking for him to step up and lead what we hope will be a very stingy defense," says veteran head coach Denny Harper. "There's no question that he and Steven Donohoe are the leaders of this group and I think he's poised to have a great season." A biology major from nearby Solana Beach, Gresham took time on the eve of the season-opening Triton Invitational to talk about his career and this year's team.
Q: What is your No. 1 objective coming into the 2009 season?
GRESHAM: Our ultimate objective this season is to win the WWPA championship and earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.
Q: What are the keys to making that objective reality?
GRESHAM: Being focused and working hard are critical. We also have to get the "little things" right, like making good passes and communicating on defense. We need to continually improve as a team, never take anything for granted and always come ready to play.
Q: What's the biggest difference between the Peter Gresham that came in as a freshman in the fall of 2006 and the current version?
GRESHAM: About 40 pounds! Seriously though, I feel like I've grown so much as a person during my time at UCSD. I've learned how to set goals and developed the work ethic and organization to achieve these goals.
Q: What were your first impressions of head coach Denny Harper?
GRESHAM: I played high school water polo on the same team as Denny's son, Travis, so I knew Denny before my days at UCSD. He was always a good friend who offered me great advice about how to approach playing water polo in college. When I first got on the pool deck, I was surprised to find that Denny seemed to have lost all memory of our friendly chats. He had no problem chewing me out for making a stupid mistake. But seriously, Denny has become a great friend. He's a really important figure in my life and I owe him a lot for helping shape me into the person I am today.
Q: How has he influenced your game?
GRESHAM: Denny has been coaching water polo for so long that he really knows the game inside and out. He makes sure that I know to be calm and poised on defense so I don't get ejected and put forth a superior effort on offense so I can execute plays. He has been a great coach and always has good advice for me.
Q: Which of your teammates do you expect to have a breakout season in 2009?
GRESHAM: Two teammates that I know will have a breakout season are senior Kneif Lohse and junior Sean Cruz. Kneif is also a school record holder in swimming and he brings a lot of speed to the pool. Sean redshirted last year but this lefty is poised to burst onto the scene. The bottom line is that both of these players will be integral to our success this year.
Q: What do consider your biggest accomplishment as a collegiate water polo player to date? What's been your biggest disappointment?
GRESHAM: What comes to mind is not the biggest thing that I've done, but something that I'm proud of. During my sophomore year as a field player, I blocked penalty shots on three occasions. Our goalie had been kicked out, so I had to get into the cage and defend. Blocking penalty shots was especially challenging because field players can only use one hand in the goal. Due to a twist of fate, I played backup goalie the year before, so I had some experience. Those field players never knew what hit them.
My biggest disappointment was losing the WWPA championship last year. However, that disappointment has been fuel for my fire and has inspired me to work harder than ever to change that this year.
Q: What is the average fan's biggest misconception about the game of water polo?
GRESHAM: Fans generally don't understand how the whistles work. A foul is an integral part of the game of water polo. There's no limit to the number of ordinary fouls that a team can commit in a game, so it makes for a lot of whistles. A good tip for new fans attending water polo games is to sit next to someone who has played water polo. They can usually do a good job of explaining why a call was made.
Q: You open this weekend with the Triton Invitational Tournament. What do you expect it will tell you about this year's team?
GRESHAM: After the tournament, we'll have a better understanding of our strengths and weaknesses. We can adjust our strategy to play to our strengths and work on improving our weaknesses. We should also have a clearer idea about what the newer team members can do.
Q: What separates UC San Diego Water Polo from other collegiate programs?
GRESHAM: In my opinion, it's that the UCSD water polo team is like a family. Everyone is very supportive and we're always pushing each other to be better. I feel a deep bond with everyone on the team and I know that is something special.
Q: What's the toughest water polo skill to master? Why?
GRESHAM: I'd say having vision and game sense in the pool. It's the kind of thing you can only learn with experience, such as always knowing how much time is left on the shot clock, and reading the way a defender's hips are pointed and taking advantage of that. That's why it's great to play against older guys, who've been playing the game so long that everything is automatic for them. You can learn a lot just by watching the way they play.
Q: What do you enjoy doing away from the pool?
GRESHAM: I really enjoy surfing, stand up paddle boarding, playing guitar and hanging out with my friends. Though lately, due to our lengthy training regimen, whenever I am away from the pool I enjoy eating, sitting on the couch and sleeping.
Q: What is your favorite thing about UCSD aside from water polo?
GRESHAM: My favorite thing would have to be all the great people I've met. I have made many lifelong friends. Also, La Jolla is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend you check it out.
Q: You're sporting a "new look" fu manchu during training camp. Is it going to stay? Does it have any significance?
GRESHAM: Well, as I'm sure you know, the Fu Manchu was first worn by Dr. Fu Manchu in a series of English novels from the first half of the 20th century. Here is how one person described Dr. Fu Manchu:
"Imagine a person, tall, lean and feline, high-shouldered, with a brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan, ... one giant intellect, with all the resources of science past and present ... Imagine that awful being, and you have a mental picture of Dr. Fu-Manchu."
Coming from this impressive pedigree I knew that I could channel some of this awesome power into my water polo game. The moustache is also a metaphor for our team. It's strong, powerful, and a little bit dangerous. It's the underdog, but I'm confident that this season I can lead my team and my new moustache to victory.
That being said, I'll probably shave it when school starts because nobody takes me seriously with this thing.
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