Men’s water polo makes a splash with its most successful season since 2008

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Joe Cox (sophomore) is a member of the men's water polo team at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Victoria Winter/ The Occidental
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The Occidental men’s water polo team played their last game of the 2018 season at the University of La Verne Nov. 10. Ending their season with an 11–10 victory, it was the last of their 12 season wins, according to the Tigers Water Polo page. The team is proud of how they played the last game and many, including Alexander Zim (senior), EJ Havens (sophomore) and Joe Cox (sophomore), thought of it as their best game of the season.

“The last game was our best game for sure,” Zim said. “It’s not how we played the whole time, we played well, but we could have played better. It was just a very gritty game with a lot of brutalities called, but we stayed poised and kept our composure and everyone was very together, which is what’s important to me. So even though I won’t be here next year, it gives me hope for next year’s team. It was just a very unified game.”

Alex Zim (senior) stands outside the Mary Norton Clapp Academic Commons at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. Hope Fowler/The Occidental

Led by Occidental alum and two-time All-American award recipient Jack Stabenfeldt ‘14, the Tigers played a total of 27 games this season. With a grueling weekly schedule of four evening three-hour practices, three early-morning weights sessions and two games, the team worked hard for this season’s successes. Many players have shown unprecedented commitment to their improvement, according to Stabenfeldt.

This year, the team welcomed six first-year Tigers, adding skill and depth, according to Stabenfeldt. Included in the group of rookies was lone goalkeeper Henry Grady (first-year). Grady filled the empty spot this season, as the Tigers did not have a goalie during their last season.

“I think it’s great that this was our best season, but at the same time we’re not going to get better by looking back,” Cox said. “So for us, we are very happy that we got a few wins this year and got better as a team, but at the end of the day, we’re looking forward. So it’s nice to reflect on the season, but we’re now focused on the off-season and improving ourselves for next year.”

In the past, it’s been the returning players who are ready to play in games and compete, but this year’s incoming class brought a ready-to-play mindset that put nearly all of them in a solid position to play every game, according to Stabenfeldt. He is confident that next year’s incoming players will be the same. The team also is positive that next year’s recruits will bring an even greater depth to the team, according to Havens. As they are improving every year, the team had its best overall finish in 10 years, according to Oxy Athletics.

EJ Havens (sophomore) talks about his experience in the men’s water polo team at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Monday, Nov. 12, 2018. Victoria Winter/ The Occidental

“I’m really happy, I’m proud of the guys,” Stabenfeldt said. “We’ve won the most games since 2008, which is the most games I’ve seen since I’ve been here. We won 12 — a lot of them were hard-fought, a lot of them were close, so it wasn’t a bunch of easy games, but they were games we had to earn, especially earlier on in the year.”

One of the highlights of the season for many players has been how close everyone is, according to Zim, Cox and Havens. With a small roster of 13 players, it’s important for there to be unity and cohesiveness among the players.

“The team is so well-connected and we get along so well. We just push through all our sets and every day of practice together,” Havens said. “We get through all the tough times we have together.”

As the team already has their eyes on next season, they also say goodbye to their one graduating senior, Alexander Zim.

“Zim has played a huge part for our team this year, and he’s also just a good friend,” Cox said. “We’re going to miss him both as a player and a friend.”

The center defender said he has enjoyed his years on the team and will greatly miss the bonds he has formed with his teammates, though he knows that those friendships will last for a long time. He recounts his last game as being extremely emotional, but he is grateful for his collegiate career as a Tiger. As he says goodbye to the team, he wants his teammates to remember to make the most of it and to be thankful for the experiences they have.

“I’m really proud of Alex, because he accepted a big role this year,” Stabenfeldt said. “He played a lot of minutes and pushed through a lot of injuries, and he just understood that this year might not be the year that we were going to win conference, but he saw, just based on what we were doing, who we were bringing in, the new facility, that it was going to happen soon. He knew he could have an impact on that. I think when we get to that point in the near future, a lot of it will have to do with him and how he approached this season.”

Along with a farewell to Zim, the team also said goodbye to the iconic Taylor Pool as they finished their last fall season in the “oldest active competitive water polo site in the United States,” according to Oxy Athletics. The Tigers are back in action during their month-long spring season and are excited to see their continuing improvements in the coming years.