Upperclassmen play a critical part on any collegiate team.
On the No. 1 UCLA men’s water polo team (21-0, 1-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation), the seven seniors in the field account for over 41 percent of the 25-man roster’s total scoring.
As for the No. 6 Stanford Cardinal (12-3, 0-1), the Bruins’ lone opponent this weekend, the seniors are playing a different role this season.
Reid Chase, along with honorable mention All-Americans Jackson Kimbell, Connor Stapleton and Drew Holland are postponing their fourth years of eligibility by taking redshirt seasons.
“I think they’re trying to hold those guys who would’ve been seniors this year one more year,” said coach Adam Wright. “But at the same time, they really do still have a good group of players.”
The Cardinal offense is led by sophomore Blake Parrish, whose 36 goals account for nearly 20 percent of Stanford’s total production. Like the Bruins’ senior class, Stanford’s featured group is its sophomores, who have supplied the majority of its goals this season.
In addition to Parrish, Wright was quick to mention redshirt sophomores Harrison Enright and Mitchell Mendoza, as well as sophomore Marco Stanchi, who have combined for 44 goals.
“They’re a young team,” said senior attacker Ryder Roberts. “They’re building on a lot of good experience that these young guys are getting on their team, and I think they’re getting better every game.”
On defense, though Holland – who’s two saves shy of tying the school’s career saves record of 744 – is redshirting this year, Oliver Lewis and the Stanford defense has stepped up in the absence.
The junior is averaging 10.6 saves per game, and through 15 games, the average amount of goals allowed per game is under six – only .4 goals per game higher than the 2015 total.
“Oliver (Lewis) has been playing really well this whole season for them,” said junior attacker Jack Grover. “In the offseason we had trouble against him, they play a hard press so that could be an issue too.”
The hard press was something the Bruins faced in last weekend’s 7-6 victory over No. 2 California, and the Bears and the Cardinal have similar offensive schemes too.
Cal’s Johnny Hooper has 30 more goals than the next closest player on Cal, and Stanford’s Parrish, while the margin is less extreme, is still a centerpiece to its offense, despite the differences in both players’ positions.
“Parish is a defender and also can play as a center and has a good outside arm, whereas Hooper is on the perimeter, and he’s kind of going free all over the place,” Wright said. “Hopefully our centers put him in a position where we have to make him work defensively, and obviously we have to pay attention to him on the offensive end.”
Key players or not, the team has been preparing for Stanford like it would for any opponent.
“We’ll have matchups by the time it comes around to it, but we’re going to be working plays and making sure we know what they’re doing,” Grover said.
And opponent aside, Saturday will be the first of two consecutive home weekends for UCLA before they take on No. 3 USC. The Bruins have been competing on the road since Oct. 8, and the stretch included NCAA record-tying and record-breaking wins that all happened away from Westwood.
“It’s always great to play at home,” Wright said. “Hopefully the school’s happy with what we’re doing.”