After riding under the radar for two seasons, senior Bryce Madsen burst into the men's water polo limelight, pushing his way into the starting lineup and scoring 37 goals as a junior in 2009. The Westminster native's total was second best on a team that came within a goal of winning the Western Water Polo Association Championship. "Bryce has an incredible story, going from a guy who nearly got cut from the team to becoming a starter," said Head Coach Denny Harper. "He's clearly a key component of our team, but still has a lot of room to improve and we're seeing him start to take that challenge." Madsen, who has racked up nine goals and nine assists so far this year, took time from training to talk about his evolution as a player, the team's prospects this fall and his life away from polo.
Q: After seeing limited action up to that point, last year you worked your way into the starting lineup and ended up scoring 37 goals. Looking back, were you surprised at your performance last season?
MADSEN: I was a little surprised. Last year was a very good year for me. But I worked very hard and when given the chances, I succeeded.
Q: Since you, in a sense, came out of nowhere in 2009, did you feel a different set of expectations coming into this fall? How have you dealt with that?
MADSEN: I feel like after last year I am expected to play at that high of a level all the time. It really has not been hard to deal with because I expect more out of myself than anyone could, so no one puts more pressure on me than I do. I have always known that I had the skills to play at this level and last year I was finally given the reps I needed to show what I had and made the most of them.
Q: Was there a benefit to not playing as much early in your collegiate career?
MADSEN: We had some talented players my first couple of years and I was able to watch and learn from them. I think I would have benefited more if I had played early on, but nonetheless I used my first two years to get bigger and faster and that has really benefited me.
Q: How would you evaluate your own play and that of your team so far in 2010?
MADSEN: My play so far this year has been OK. I feel like there are several areas I could really improve in and I believe I am doing that as the year progresses. This year has been challenging for the team. We have had some adversity as expected, and we have a lot of young players still trying to get into the mix and find out how they can help this team, as well as older players still trying to find their groove. But overall, we have continued to improve since day one and as long as we continue to get better we will be fine come crunch time.
Q: Given its relative youth, what can you say about the upside of this year's club?
MADSEN: Being such a young team this year means there is a lot more adversity we must overcome. But, our young players are definitely talented and if we can just get the right pieces in the right spots and continue to stick together there is no telling what this team can accomplish.
Q: What prompted you to start playing water polo? What other sports had you participated in prior to that?
MADSEN: My dad was an All-American water polo player in high school and saw it as a gateway into college because in reality, most of the best players live in California so you are really only competing with players from one state, as opposed to fifty states in baseball or football. Before I started playing water polo, I played soccer and baseball, but was really focused on soccer. Soccer was the sport I loved to play and thought I would continue playing later on in life and that's probably because I was pretty good at it.
Q: What is the most difficult aspect of your sport and what are some things a non-water polo player would be surprised to know about it?
MADSEN: The most difficult thing about water polo is the amount of conditioning we have to endure to be able to play at a competitive level. A lot of people that watch the sport are unaware of how physical it is. It is basically an hour and ten minute wrestling match up and down the pool. A lot of the game is played underwater and for someone unfamiliar with the sport, if you don't know what you're looking for there is a lot you won't see.
Q: Of all the teammates you've played with at UCSD, who had a particular skill you really admired? Who had the most impact on you?
MADSEN: My first two years in the program I had the honor of playing with UCSD's all-time assist leader Adi Jerkovic. He was a player I greatly admired because he never complained and always gave a 100%. I remember thinking when he swam, this guy only had one speed and it was just go all out, all the time. He would never back down from a challenge and because of it, he was one of the best players in the country. He was the type of player that made me want to work harder and be better.
Q: Your coach, Denny Harper, is quite a colorful personality. Is there a difference between the person fans see on game day and the one you see everyday on the deck at practice? What type of relationship does he have with his players?
MADSEN: There is a difference. Denny likes to sit back during games, but at the same time he is intense and passionate about water polo and coaching and that comes out in practice. Denny has a lot of knowledge in the sport, as well as how to interact with people to get to them to do what he wants. He is a very personal coach and he treats his players like they are his sons, which means he is not afraid to yell at us to get us to work harder and improve.
Q: UCSD men's water polo has number of traditions associated with its pre-season training regime. What are some of the more memorable for you?
MADSEN: The beach workouts during hell week are definitely one of my favorite traditions. We are one of the few programs in the country that can do this because of where we are located and that's one thing that makes UCSD Water Polo unique. Also, I just like being with the guys before workouts and knowing that whatever we are about to do, we are all in it together, working hard for a cause and that's to win a championship.
Q: What led to your choice of UCSD for college? Both in and out of the pool, has that decision been proven to be a wise one?
MADSEN: Well, initially, my first choice was Stanford but when that became an uncertain option, I weighed in on my other choices and was very surprised at what UCSD had to offer. I really didn't know much about the school and the more I looked into the educational programs, sports, the location and all the other great things it had to offer, I realized this was the perfect place for me. Looking back this really was the right choice for me and the decision to come here has been one of the best decisions I have ever made.
Q: You're a mechanical engineering major. What do you hope to do long term with that degree? Does it relate at all to water polo?
MADSEN: My goal when I graduate is to try out for the fire academy and, with any luck become a firefighter, ideally in Orange County. Hopefully being an engineer and a water polo player will help in that process but if not, I will pursue a job as a mechanical engineer with whatever company I feel has the best to offer. Optimistically, I would like to invent some apparatus the fire department can use and survive off all the earnings from that invention.
Q: What was life like in the Madsen household growing up in Orange County with three siblings? What do you consider the most influential advice you've received from your parents?
MADSEN: Growing up in the Madsen household has been pretty hectic. All my brothers and my sister have played or are still playing sports and so my parents are always running around from place to place watching us play. Having two other brothers has been really helpful growing up because we are all so competitive. We couldn't stand losing to one another and it forced us to work harder to out-perform each other. If one of my brothers scored two goals, I had to score three, otherwise the bragging would never stop.
The most influential advice I have received from my parents is the harder you work early on in life, the easier it gets later on.
Q: When you're not playing water polo or going to school, what do you enjoy doing?
MADSEN: Water polo and going to school pretty much consume all my time, but when I get a moment surfing helps me to escape it all, as well as the occasional round of golf.
Q: What's been your most interesting experience outside of sports?
MADSEN: Leaving the parental guardianship and going off to college has been my most interesting experience. Living on my own the last four years has forced me to really mature in order to survive. Just the little things like laundry and cooking were difficult at first and now it is just a routine. I feel like I have really grown up and no longer need my parents to facilitate all my decisions.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish individually and as part of the UCSD team before the 2010 season is over?
MADSEN: Individually I want to just keep improving so that come late November when we are playing in our conference tournament, I am playing my best water polo. As part of the team, I hope I can do whatever it takes to help this team win a conference championship. I have been here for three years now and I do not want to graduate without having competed in an NCAA Final Four.
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