Men’s water polo records positive record for first half of the season

Hayden Comerford (First-year) looks for passing opportunities against a California Lutheran defense in Taylor Pool, Occidental College on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Miles Koupal/The Occidental.

The Occidental men’s water polo team has bounced back from last year’s winless season and currently holds a record of 11 wins and eight losses.

This year’s team has a number of new faces, with six first years joining the roster. Alexander Zim, the lone senior on the team, explained how these new players have been instrumental in turning around the team’s fortunes.

“We have six freshmen that are all able to contribute,” Zim said. “Each one has an important role on the team, and every player contributes in a way.”

Head coach Jack Stabenfeldt also acknowledged the help the first years bring to the team but was also quick to credit the returners.

“The recruiting has been a big help,” Stabenfeldt said. “It’s not just that—I think that’s the easy thing to point to. The other aspect is the guys who stuck with us from last year and that have returned have all improved.”

Looking back to last season, Stabenfeldt explained how he and his team faced a number of challenges.

Wilson Noll (first-year ) winds up for a shot against California Lutheran defense in Taylor Pool, Occidental College on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Miles Koupal/The Occidental.

“The biggest one was just establishing a culture of hard work and accountability, and so that’s what we spent a lot of time doing last year and I think it’s translated into this year,” Stabenfeldt said. “We did have a lot of close games last year. We competed and we played hard, we were just in the beginning stages of building a culture.”

Joseph Cox (sophomore) gave his perspective on why last season was challenging for the program.

“More than half the team had never played college water polo coming in, and what was tough was that last year, there was a greater disparity in talent,” Cox said. “There were a lot of guys who played a lot and then there were a few guys who didn’t play as much, whereas this year’s team, I think, in general, we’re a lot more deep.”

With the team’s improving talent, both Cox and Stabenfeldt noted how a strong pre-season set the team up to pull off many wins this season and how they felt this paid off in the very first game.

Stabenfeldt recalled how the Tigers were struggling against Chaffey College as they were looking for their first victory since the 2016 season.

“We were knocking on the door the whole game, we were playing good offense, we just were not converting our shots,” Stabenfeldt said.

The Tigers were trailing their opponents in the fourth quarter before turning it around en route to their first win in over a year.

“We were down 7–5, and in the span of less than 3 minutes, all of a sudden we were up 11–7,” Stabenfeldt said. “You could sense that once that happened we started to understand as a group that the things that we were doing are going to lead us in the right direction.”

Cox described what the eventual 11–9 victory for the Tigers meant to him and his teammates.

Cian Concannon (first-year) and Walter Sandbloom (sophomore) during a time-out versus California Lutheran University at Taylor Pool, Occidental College on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2018. Miles Koupal/The Occidental.

“It was so nice because we worked really hard last year for sure, but this year we’ve put in a lot more extra effort,” Cox said. “I think, for the team, it was just so pivotal because it proved to us really early on that we have everything it takes to win”.

While the Tigers are still above .500, Zim said it was a little too soon to tell just how good a team they are.

“We won’t really know until more SCIAC games happen, but our team’s definitely looking a lot better this year and poised to grow,” Zim said.

Stabenfeldt echoed this sentiment but was also pleased with the strides his Tigers have already made.

“I think this year more so than anything has just been a reminder that we’re doing the right things and we just need to keep that approach moving forward,” Stabenfeldt said.

Cox explained how he and his teammates were ready to try and carry their newfound belief into every team they come up against.

“We just want to go out there and beat teams, honestly” Cox said.

Next up for the Tigers is a home match against conference rivals Claremont-Mudd-Scripps at Taylor Pool Oct. 18.