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The 2011 UC San Diego Men's Water Polo squad won their 15th WWPA title and have earned a berth into the field of four at the NCAA Championships.  Follow the Tritons on their trip to Berkeley, CA here with daily updates, photos and links to all that is happening at the championships



December 2, 2011

CHRIS BARTON

Junior - Carlsbad, CA
 
We got in another practice this afternoon over at UC Berkeley and then all four teams attended the NCAA Championship Banquet at our tournament headquarters hotel. I thought it was a very nice event. Everyone was talking about how good the food was and how much there was of it. Usually at these banquets, they don't have enough food to fully feed the athletes but that didn't seem to be the case this time. It was pretty quick too.

They showed a highlight video of the four teams, had a guest speaker (a former water polo player who was also the retired president of Dreyer's Ice Cream) and during the last portion of the  program, one player from each school was asked to go up to the podium and say a few words on behalf of his team. Earlier in the week our coach, Denny Harper, asked me if I would speak for our team. It was a real honor but I've got to admit I was totally nervous. I didn't know exactly what to say and was actually still writing out note cards minutes before being introduced. I don't do this too often, I think the last time was in sixth grade for class president. My mom wrote that one for me so it was a little easier.

I had talked with Denny about it. He didn't give me specific direction but gave offered some examples of good and bad speeches he'd heard in the past. He told me that one of the best surprisingly came from UCSD alum Doug Cole, a guy who was one of the quietest on the team. He did talk to me about the significance of the event being at Cal with the history of the program and their former coach, Pete Cutino, one of the legends of the sport.

With that advice, the themes I talked about were how grateful we were to be in the tournament, how cool it was to be at Cal with its water polo tradition and how far our UCSD team has come this year. I tried to tie it together with the importance of the family aspect of our program. I guess it turned out OK. Everyone on our team was supportive and I didn't hear any negative reviews.

I can definitely say I'm glad it's over. Thinking about the speech the last few days meant I was not 100% focused on what this weekend is really about. Now, I can turn my full attention to UCLA and our biggest game of the season tomorrow afternoon.

December 2, 2011

MATT USTASZEWSKI

Assistant Coach

December 1, 2011

MATT MICHALKO

Freshman - Rancho Santa Fe, CA

We all met at the San Diego Airport this morning at 9:30 AM for our 11:00 AM flight to Oakland and the start of our NCAA Championship experience. It was a pretty uneventful trip, although after we arrived, we got a bit lost going to lunch when each of the three coaches driving our vans decided to go a different way.

After lunch got squared away, we went straight over to UC Berkeley and saw the venue for the first time. Ironically, nobody on our team has ever played a collegiate game in this pool. Cal has won more NCAA Championships than any other school and it was interesting to see some of the history-banners and that kind of thing. We had a 90-minute private practice where we did a lot of swimming, loosening up after the flight and getting comfortable with the place. There was a lot of basic stuff and just working through our plays.

You can definitely tell it's going to be a championship environment. There are plenty of extra seats and you need to have credentials just to get into the pool. They have about 10 different kinds of passes, all different colors, for everything from VIPs to coaches to referees all the way down to ball boys. We have our own locker room for the weekend which has our logo on the outside, a combination lock on the door for access and when we went in drinks, fruit and other snacks were available which was pretty cool.

After practice, we drove up to the home of Russ Hafferkamp, who coached the UCSD Water Polo team before Denny (Harper). A lot of guys have a relationship with Russ and it was really cool that Denny acknowledged the role he played in building our program. The house is up in the hills above Oakland and has an incredible, full 180-degree view of the entire Bay Area. It was a perfectly clear night and you could see all of the lights of the city which was pretty cool for someone like me who has never been here. Russ seemed really excited to have us there for dinner and it was very gracious of him and Kathy share their home with us. Having a fantastic meal and the opportunity to relax with my teammates was a great way to wind up the first day of the trip.

The level of play this weekend is going to be a real test for us but we've also got the added challenge of balancing it with our upcoming finals. It's arguably the most important academic week of the fall as well as the most important week of our water polo season. It's a challenge we all help each other out with and I'm looking forward to success in both endeavors.





November 30, 2011

Brian Donohoe

Junior - Upland, CA        

Only three days and counting until the 2011 NCAA Championships! This is something that I, and many of my teammates, have dreamt about throughout our entire water polo careers. It still seems pretty incredible to think about what we've already been able to achieve this season. Only ten days ago, we were able to win the 15th WWPA Conference championship in our program's history, ending a five-year drought since we were last able to accomplish that feat.

The euphoria of that win left many of us unsure of what to do next, as it seemed we had finally attained the ultimate goal that we had set for ourselves at the beginning of the season. But, as the excitement of that win wore off, we began to focus more on the unbelievable opportunity that we had now given ourselves. Days from now, we will be one of only four teams still in the hunt for a national championship. As such, we all believe that we have become part of something truly special and that, if we stay focused and confident, that national championship is within our reach. So, while head coach Denny Harper made sure to let us "enjoy the moment" following our championship victory, he also recognized that we would need to quickly shift gears to start preparing for the upcoming weekend.           

The last week or so of practices has been dominated with a mix of conditioning and scrimmaging, in an effort, as Denny would say, "to keep the competitive juices flowing." Only today did we really begin to get more specific in terms of scouting and match-ups with our semi-final opponent, UCLA. Having played them earlier in the season, we feel like we have a pretty good sense of their strengths and weaknesses and know what we need to do in order to give ourselves an opportunity to win. It's definitely going to take our best effort of the season, and maybe a little something extra, but we really do have faith that we can pull this off.

           
Come tomorrow morning, we will begin to participate in all of the festivities and special events associated with an NCAA Final Four. But, while we hope to enjoy these experiences as much as possible, there is no doubt that all of our minds will be focused on the ultimate goal of coming home with two more victories and, of course, that national championship trophy. So wish us luck, and we hope to make you proud!

Go Tritons!

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