Men’s water polo jumps to 3–0 start this season

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Coach Jack Stabenfeldt and the Occidental College men’s water polo team pose outside the pool in Rush Gymnasium on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Matthew VanBronkhorst/The Occidental

Occidental’s men’s water polo team has started their season with a 3–0 record, ranking them as No. 10 in the NCAA Division III bracket. At the Chaffey College Mini Tournament Sept. 1, the Tigers beat Chaffey College 11–9 in game one, followed by a 14–8 win over Santa Monica College in game two. Sept. 5, the team beat Rio Hondo College 25–8. These consecutive wins can be attributed to good work ethic and hard practices, according to head coach Jack Stabenfedlt.

“This year we are training a lot harder,” Stabenfedlt said. “In every facet, everything we do is at a higher level.”

For the 2018 season, the roster includes six first years, which makes up nearly half the team. The first-year class has brought a lot of positive energy and experience, according to Stabenfedlt. Having a large first-year class has been extremely beneficial to both team culture and winning games, according to attacker Joe Cox (sophomore).

“The first years have had to learn very quickly because it is a pretty young team now,” Cox said.

In addition to having many new players, the team’s practices and strategy are different than last season – according to Cox, the team’s chemistry this year both in and out of the pool is unprecedented.

“We all get along really well together, and everyone brings a lot of experience to the table,” Cox said.

Building a new team culture with the attitude of 100 percent commitment is something everyone is truly invested in, according to Cox. The team as a whole has been closely-knit and the first years have shown great leadership qualities and potential, according to Stabenfedlt.

“Even if it’s showing up to practice five minutes early, instead of right on time, it’s an important part of what [the team] is trying to build,” Cox said.

Cox said it is not just about who scores, but about scoring and winning as a team. Coach Stabenfedlt has helped facilitate a culture of team camaraderie, according to utility player EJ Havens (sophomore).

“The values coach Jack has given us as a team, like working for each other and not being selfish with shots, has helped generate a good culture for [the team],” Havens said.

This chemistry is evident in their previous wins, according to Cox. In the game against Rio Hondo, every person who played in the pool scored. The 25 points were made up of ten scorers, including Joe Cox (sophomore), Jason Teng (first year), Elijah Havens (sophomore), Cian Concannon (first year), Luke Boyer (junior) and Nicholas Lipar (junior), all of whom scored multiple goals. Together, the Tigers have prevailed and have played strongly in the second and third quarters, according to Stabenfedlt.

“Our first three games are probably going to be the lowest [scores] of the season because we just started playing together as a team,” Havens said. “I’m excited to keep playing as a team during SCIAC games, [the team] will keep getting better.”

In the first game against Chaffey, the Tigers were trailing 7–5 in the fourth quarter, yet still were in control of the game, according to Stabenfedlt. Then, they went on a six-score run in under three minutes. According to both Stabenfedlt and Cox, the Tigers’ game against Chaffey was the best thus far.

“That [scoring six points] was a pretty special moment for the guys on our team,” Stabenfedlt said. “I think when that happened, they realized what they’re truly capable of.”

In the game against Santa Monica College, the Tigers continued the pace they set in the game with Chaffey, with their statistics reflecting this as well. Occidental won that game with a final score of 14–8. The first three games count for the team’s national standing, but not for their Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) results.

Looking ahead to the next game, the Tigers will face off against the Pomona-Pitzer Sagehens in their next game Sept. 19 at 4 p.m. at Taylor Pool. The strategy is slightly different going into this game compared to the previous ones, according to Havens.

“It’s a lot louder in Taylor Pool, and it is a lot smaller pool so it’s a fast-paced game,” Stabenfedlt said. “[The players] are really excited for the energy of their first home game.”