Entering a new season, the coaches and players for the men’s water polo team expect to accomplish big things in the pool. They believe that they can improve on last season’s result and exceed their third place standing in the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) preseason coaches poll. They also hope to win the conference altogether.
“We’ve got to get back into the mindset that we’re going to compete for [the conference championship] every year,” head coach John Loughran said. “It’s an exciting time. I think this group has a ton of potential and we’re getting better every practice.”
The Lions believe that offense will be their main strength this season. They return their top two scorers from last year in sophomore attacker Blazo Mitrovic, who scored 76 goals, and redshirt junior defender Alexandros Athymaritis, who scored 46. However, Loughran is excited about the supporting players.
“We have strong players in Blazo [Mitrovic] and Alex [Athymaritis], so they’re going to be covered,” he said. “Our role players are going to have to be able to produce.”
The team is also attempting to fill the hole created by the graduation of last year’s primary center, Dayne Jagga. This season will likely feature multiple centers in the rotation for the Lions, with Loughran planning to give junior Jack Baumgardner, junior Scott Thomas and freshman Connor Settem time at the position.
Settem is one of many new players for LMU. The roster features seven freshmen and two redshirt freshmen. The team also brought in junior attacker David Carrasco from Spain to help bolster the offense. Athymaritis, who is a veteran leader for the Lions, expressed optimism about the new players and stated that he likes what they give the team.
“We have a lot of young guys on the team, so that brings a lot of energy,” he said. “The young guys are hungry.”
The weeks leading up to the start of the season are a time for incoming players to integrate themselves into the team. Loughran stressed the importance of developing chemistry between new and established players.
“We’re getting guys learning how to work together, understanding each other’s tendencies, and that’s been a big part of our preseason,” he said.
While all of the new players will go through the process of transitioning to college water polo, none of them are making a bigger leap than Carrasco. The Barcelona native has been playing overseas for years and is looking forward to his first season of American water polo — a game very different from the European style of play. Carrasco noted how the European style of play was faster than in the United States.
The offensive veterans are looking forward to playing with Carrasco and his up-tempo approach to the game.
“I’d like to have more counterattack opportunities with David,” said senior attacker Austin Clark, who led the team in assists last season. “He’s really fast. I’ve got to match his speed [and] find a way to get faster.”
The offense looks strong between Carrasco, the freshmen and the returners, meaning that the question marks lie with the defensive facet of the game. Loughran is aware that the team’s defense could make or break their season.
“We have to be the best defensive team in the conference if we want to compete for a conference title,” he said. “That goes from goaltending to team defense to individual defense.”
The Lions hope to use defense to create offense. They want to excel at counterattacking and they know that an aggressive style of defense will be a major factor in their success.
“We’re working on a lot of [counterattacks],” Clark said. “We’re also really focusing on playing some strong press defense.”
The team has a long season ahead, but their attitude is one of optimism and hope that capturing their first WWPA crown since 2010 would be just the beginning.
“We’re trying to win conference and then keep going from there,” Athymaritis said.
LMU’s season begins on Saturday, Sept. 7 at 12:30 p.m. at the UC San Diego Triton Invitational in La Jolla, when the Lions take on the California Golden Bears.