After ending the 2016 season on a winning note against Occidental in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship tournament, the men’s water polo team looks to build off that momentum going into a promising offseason.
The team put together a 5-6 conference record and finished 7-19 overall, including tournament play.
Junior driver Rey Julian Castillo was the offensive catalyst, racking up 80 goals to compliment 44 steals and 17 assists. These stats earned him SCIAC Newcomer of the Year honors in his debut season and will be a significant springboard into his senior campaign.
Castillo saw constant improvement in the team throughout the year, and said he feels crucial strides were made toward the end of the season.
“I think the biggest improvement I saw throughout the season was the way we meshed together,” Castillo said. “The first couple of games we weren’t playing up to our potential, but by the end of the season the chemistry and abilities of the team started coming to light. Obviously this is an improvement we expected, but the transformation between the beginning and the end was significant.”
A big senior season will be expected of Castillo, and he feels he can also improve the leadership aspect of his game.
“Going into this last season, the biggest gains need to be made in my leadership role,” Castillo said. “I have to become a good enough leader to push everybody around me to become the best player they can be.”
Sophomore goalie Ian Hernandez collected Second Team All-SCIAC honors behind a healthy 277 saves and 13 assists on the season, and said that small adjustments allowed him to help improve the overall team performance.
“Consistently working on my leg strength and being able to not miss one practice this season really paid dividends in the end,” Hernandez said. “Being able to play light and react quickly to the ball made my job much easier.”
Hernandez will return next season alongside Castillo and said that a strong push this off-season can put the Leopards in championship contention.
“The weight room is going to be essential, and everyone needs to buy into the direction our program is heading in,” Hernandez said. “One strong recruiting class is all it takes, and I’m excited to see what’s in store next season.”
Junior driver Josh Vega is amongst the five juniors returning for their final season, and said he knows his time to capture a SCIAC championship is dwindling.
“Every year is a new opportunity, and anyone can make anything happen,” Vega said. “Being my last year, I feel that the other seniors and myself can rally together and build this team into what we all know it could be. We’re not far from being a championship team, and we look forward to putting in the work this off-season.”
Jacob Whannel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.