There’s talent within the Caltech men’s water polo program.
But Coach Joshua Moser isn't sure whether others realize it yet.
The fifth-year coach understands the Beavers’ record does not support that claim. After all, they finished last season 2-23 overall and 0-10 in the Southern Califormia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, but he hopes winning helps rectify that.
“If we can get that conference win,” he said, “we could get some of our players the credit that they deserve and the credit they haven’t really gotten from the other coaches.”
Caltech will carry eight returners on its 14-man roster, led by captain Jack Blackwood, who’s shown a penchant for scoring in his first two seasons. As a freshman, he finished second in goals scored in the conference. Last year, he topped that list. And the senior center continues adding new wrinkles to his game while steadily adding bulk to his 6-foot-2 frame.
“All Jack does is score goals, draw double teams and draw fouls. He’s absolutely a beast,” Moser said. “He’s our captain and definitely our leader.
“If he plays well, we have good games. If he doesn’t, that’s not to say we’re going to have a bad game, but it makes it a lot tougher. He opens everything up for everyone else. Any good game our perimeter plays have, almost without fail, is because Jack is drawing a double or triple team. He’s our engine and we just have to continue feeding him.”
He’ll be paired again with Thomas Kwong, the team’s primary distributor and ball handler. Moser said he expects the senior to take pressure off the inside game and, since the program graduated some of its top shooters, he could also be asked to provide some scoring.
At goalkeeper, Benjamin Grabowski will report for his second year of duty. Moser said he expects much from the rising sophomore, who won the battle for the starting job as a freshman.
“He’s going to be massive,” Moser said. “Depending on how much he steps up kind of says how well our defense is going to end up being. It’s definitely a pressure situation, but he dealt with that all of last year.
“He certainly wasn’t the best goalkeeper ever, but he did a good job of working to improve everyday and in practice. He has mountains of potential. He’s not quite there yet. He’s got to put it together. [But] if he keeps that up, it’ll be exciting to see. He has the potential to be one of the best goalkeepers in the conference.”
The Beavers graduated five seniors, though Moser anticipates that Blackwood and Kwong could help make up the difference, along with Brian Penserini, a senior attacker and all-conference baseball player, and a host of incoming players.
The team has yet to hold practice — it begins Tuesday — so there hasn’t been an opportunity for the coaching staff to see the newcomers in action. From what Moser’s gathered in game footage, he’s optimistic.
Jim Blackwood, brother of Jack, will be among the crop of incoming players. Moser said he’s uncertain where Jim Blackwood fits into rotation, “but there’s definitely a place for him here.”
He added: “He’s going to make our offense a little bit more dynamic and give us another body on defense. He’s an athlete.”
Moser hopes the Beavers can piece together that puzzle to help snap an eight-year losing streak in conference play.
“We have a really strong group,” he said. “We just got to see if we could come together and kind of fill the gaps that year’s graduation left. A lot of work to do, but I’m really excited about it.
“We have eight [conference] games and eight opportunities to break that streak, and I think we could do it.”
The Beavers host Occidental and Chaffey in the opener Sept. 1.
With around 40 players expected on board, the Caltech men’s soccer team will feature the largest roster under Coach Rolando Uribe’s 13-year tenure.
The Beavers, who finished 1-18 overall and 1-13 in conference, lost only two players to graduation, bringing a host of returners and first-year players.
“In a way, it’s good because it shows soccer is expanding here and everyone enjoys playing,” Uribe said. “At the same time, it’s hard to deal with 40. It’s a good problem to have, though. It’s a very good mix of veterans and new players, and I’m excited.”
About 32 players return along with eight newcomers. Though he hasn’t had an opportunity to see the first-year players compete in person, Uribe said he knew about their experience (mostly high school and club soccer) and was pleased to learn that many came from states with rich soccer traditions.
Among the utmost concern, however, is seeing where everyone fits, he said. There’s also the challenge of playing the first eight games within a 21-day stretch due to the inclusion of Chapman University into the SCIAC.
The Beavers will practice for 10 days leading up to the opener.
“It’s not the ideal situation,” Uribe said. “We’re not too excited about that, but we’re looking forward to this challenge.”
With the compressed schedule, fitness will be among the chief obstacles. But with a large cast of players, Uribe said he could have the flexibility of rotating fresh legs onto the field when playing time wears on them.
Brice Nzeukou leads the returners. The senior captain has played an array of positions in his previous three years with the team, and Uribe hopes to utilize his athleticism up front. At 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, his strength and agility presents a mismatch for opponents.
“He’s big and fast,” Uribe said. “He’s good at holding the ball, striking the ball, taking our free kicks. He adds a dimension up front that a lot of teams don’t see very often.
“He’s played at forward, midfield, back. He does well wherever I put him. So this year, I’m going to have some options, which is nice, that way I could change the lineup and system of play. It’s a good card to have.”
Rongxiao “Nicky” Zhang, a senior utility, is the other captain. Uribe said he played nearly every minute of every game last season, while demonstrating an ability to lead the team.
“He’s one of those players who doesn’t say much; he leads by example,” Uribe said. “After playing one year for us, he was quiet. Now, he’s more of a leader. He’s inspirational. He watches games, organizes pickup games. He’s brought passion that we had, but that wasn’t as consistent. He’s really just brought that dimension to our program.”
"Technically, he’s a sound player. He also tackles well, knowing where and how to position himself at the appropriate time," Uribe added.
Alex Wein, a senior forward, will begin his third season with the program. Uribe said he recruited him as a freshman, but he did not join the squad until his sophomore year.
Though he hasn’t scored as much, Wein provides a threat with the ability to strike with either foot.
“He’s grown tremendously in the time he’s been here,” Uribe said. “He’s someone who’s very competitive and expects a lot from himself. He sets a high standard for the team and his work rate is tremendous.”
The Beavers return two promising sophomores in Theodore Wilkening (utility) and Marec Serlin (midfielder) who saw plenty of playing time during their freshmen campaigns.
Thomas Lampo, who sat out the season on a religious retreat, returns at outside/midfielder. He brings speed, endurance and natural ability with the ball. And senior Wesley Swank, who played every game last season, will man the net again.
Uribe also expects contributions out of forwards Kunmi Jeje and Mitchel Arene and defender Mateo Martinez. Incoming freshmen Alex Ball, Paolo Bertolotti and Alec Sands also bring a wealth of experience from high school and club ball.
Ball, a 6-foot-1 back, was a varsity starter. Bertolotti, who played for a competitive high school program, brings speed at forward. He’s also left-footed. And Sans, who covers three positions, played club and four years varsity in high school.
“This is one of our better incoming freshmen class and it could be a mixture where we have the seniors and freshmen who make it very competitive in practice,” Uribe said. “It’s a very optimistic year for us. And if things go well, we could have one of the most successful seasons ever at Caltech.”
The Beavers kick off the season Sept. 2 at Soka.
At Caltech, it isn’t unusual for players to join team sports without much prior experience.
Over the course of three years, women’s volleyball Coach Jodi Lindsay can attest to that. But this year’s team isn’t lacking in that area as much.
The Beavers, who finished 0-22 last season, return 10 of 16 players, including a batch of newcomers who’ve played at the high school or club level.
“I think we’re definitely improved in that area,” Lindsay said of the experience factor. “That’s a big one. When you don’t have the confidence because you’ve never played the sport — and when things are not going good — you’re not as experienced to get out of those situations. I think our experience now, and our depth, is going to show and produce more success for us.”
The program will feature senior, junior and sophomore captains. Paige Logan, a 6-foot middle, leads the returners as a junior captain. A starter since her freshman season, she’ll be the team’s dominant offensive player again.
Joy Lu, a senior captain, brings energy to the team as an outside hitter. Lindsay complimented her “bubbly” personality that the team admires.
“She kind of represents old Caltech in that she’s never played before and now she is, and she’s come so far,” Lindsay said. “The team looks up to her.”
There’s also a Katie Ching, who flourished as a defensive specialist and outside hitter as a freshman. The former gymnast will be relied upon to bring consistency to the team.
“She’s a stud,” Lindsay said. “Players look to her to be good and consistent. Everybody’s confident in her.
“And with that, I think we’re going to have some good leadership.”
Megan Jackson, who was last on the team two seasons ago, returns after studying a year abroad. She’ll carry on as a setter. Catherine Jamshidi, a 6-foot outside hitter, also should bring plenty up front.
Jamshidi played during a pre-frosh weekend, where word got back to Lindsay about the freshman’s performance.
“She played with the girls and the returners came back with feedback, saying they were really excited about her,” Lindsay said. “She has experience [playing club in Virginia] and she’s going to bring a lot of maturity as a freshman.”
The team has yet to practice. But once they do, Lindsay said, she’ll have a better of idea of which roles certain players will fill.
“I’ve seen pieces of them, in game film and in talking with them about their history,” she said. “But seeing them all work together and where their strengths and weaknesses are — that’ll all show in the first week of practice.
“But I’m excited. We’re going to advance our offense — fast, quick pace — that I think our team is ready for now and excited to work on.”
Caltech opens the season Sept. 1 at Hope International.
While the Beavers showed improvement last season, so did the rest of the SCIAC. Despite its growth, Caltech finished seventh out of eight conference teams in what featured one of the bigger Caltech rosters in recent memory.
“The conference improved just as we did,” Coach Scott Jung said. “But we’re still happy with the results.”
The Beavers had a relatively young team with no seniors, and it returns nearly everyone except top runner Jared Forte, who’s out following hip surgery.
Jung expects around 20-25 on his roster, with his seven top runners returning. The team will field between eight and 10 freshmen, led by Alex Pien.
“He’s the only one who has decent credentials that may make an impact,” Jung said, adding that he would have to see the rest of the players once practice begins.
Andy Zucker, a senior and captain, leads the returners, along with Michael Zhang, Eric Martin, Ian Koss, and brothers Jonathan and Stan Schor. Juan Adame is also making a push for a top-7 spot.
Jung praised Zucker for his work ethic, saying he wasn’t the most talented runner of his class, but he’s worked his way up.
“He put in the time and he’s become a great leader and great role model for the team,” Jung said. “I always say your team is as good as the captain, and he’s been leading by example. People see him out there, running the workouts and giving it 100 percent all the time. So people just fall in line for that.”
Because the team hasn’t practiced yet, Jung said he doesn’t know what to expect from his runners. But he’s optimistic heading into the Sept. 1 opener in the Redlands Invitational.
“I always throw out the caveat, ‘You never know until they show up.’ And hopefully they trained over the summer,” Jung said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how everyone improved and their results, and excited to see them perform this year.”
The Beavers will carry between 15-20 on their roster, with about 8-10 freshmen.
They finished last in the eight-team conference last season, though Jung, who also leads the women’s program, believes they’ll improve, primarily because they return their top-two runners: Stephanie Reynolds and Juliette Becker.
“We’re expecting big things from them,” Jung said.
Becker, who enters her junior season as a captain, was an all-conference performer as a freshman. She finished on the second team, placing her in the top-20 in the SCIAC.
By Jungs’ accounts, Reynolds was challenging for a spot there, too.
“Those two could probably push each other and do well in conference and lead the team,” he said.
Also looking to contribute are Marlyn Moore and Nina Budaeva, with the remaining top-7 spots wide open.
“Those four are pretty strong for what we have,” Jung said. “I don’t know of anybody who, right now, may have the ability to do better. But I’m excited because we have half the team returning. There are more upperclassmen now and I think they’ll give guidance to the freshmen.
“With the large number [of incoming runners], it gives us a lot to build upon. we didn’t have the numbers were were hoping for last year. And I think with a much larger team — with this leadership — we could definitely improve on last year and set a foundation for the future.”