Falcons Water Polo Kicks Off Season With Blue/Silver Game
Aug. 28, 2002
The Air Force water polo team kicks off its season Saturday morning at 8 with its annual Blue/Silver game in the Cadet Gymnasium's Natatorium. Air Force has compiled a 47-38 record over the last three years. The Falcons have been ranked in the nation's top 20 each of the past three seasons with 13th being their highest placing. Air Force also competed for the 15-team WWPA Conference Championship the first two years, but during the 2001 campaign Loyola Marymount and San Diego clearly stood on top. Both teams were ranked in the top eight of the nation. According to head coach Jeff Ehrlich, "You can play weak teams and look good or play strong teams and get good". The Falcons played one of their toughest schedules ever in 2001.
Of Air Force's 13 losses last season, eight were to top 10 teams, three were by one goal and another was in double-overtime. The Falcons' home tournament had five teams ranked in the top 20 and it was the first time in 30 years Navy came to play at the Academy. "We honestly felt we could compete with anyone from #9 on down," said Ehrlich. "In fact, #9 University of Pacific beat us 6-5, and we had plenty of chances to win the game. We could probably contribute some of the close losses to lack of Division I experience. Only three of our 30 players had any playing time against good programs before this year. We were able to give 26 players at least one trip and 14 players saw substantial playing time. In addition, we picked up nine games for our JV team and went a perfect 9-0 on the season. This is promising for 2002."
Leading the team this year as team co-captain will be 2001 MVP C1C Chris Smith. Smith scored 46 goals and added 40 assists last season. Smith attended South Pasadena High School, Calif., where he was an All-American. He will be one of the top scoring threats on the team. Smith was named to the 2001 NCAA All-American team and would eventually like to be involved in the World Class Athlete program so he can train with the national team. Other seniors who are looking to contribute to the team are 6'5" Charles Horn who will set two meters, and co-captain Lowell Wallace who will make things happen with his never-ending hustle. Horn played at Redlands High School where he was coached by his father, Chuck Horn, and is looking to make a big impact his final year. Wallace played on his high school water polo team in Chicago and has been one of the most improved players over the last three years.
The sophomore and junior classes will make up the majority of the 16-man traveling team. They include goalies C2Cs (Jr.) Brandon Shroyer and Kelly Greiner, and C3C (So.) Jared Jones. Shroyer was the team's starting goalie last year with 170 saves, 33 steals, and nine assists. The two-meter defenders will be C2Cs Micah Peterson, Mitch Adams and C3C Matt Herrera. Peterson started every game last season and contributed 15 goals and 39 steals. Assisting on the two-meter set will be C2C Kirk Reimer and C3C Chris Nary. Reimer and Herrera will give Horn a break, and with their size they should be able to make something happen in front of the goal. Lefthander C3C Murphey Morgan will replace Second Lieutenant David Breitenbach and contribute with his size (6'5") and speed. Other utility players include: C1Cs Garrett Ericksen, Donny Seablom and Trevor Warren, C2Cs Eric Baber and Chris Palmer, C3Cs Josh Shadrick, Vincent Urso, Josh Jewett, and Brian Woolley. Shadrick saw considerable playing time in 2001 and contributed with 21 goals. Baber with his 46+ speed in the 100 came in to win many key sprints. C2C Scott Butler, the team's leading scorer in 2001, will be redshirting his junior year in order to compete his last year at the Academy. He would also like to get involved with the World Class Athlete program when he graduates.
The class of 2006 includes six athletes and hopes to produce several impact players for the 2002 season. They include Greg Balzhiser, Zach Carey, Jeff Donaldson, Justin Perkins, Brad Roberts, and Oliver Swiecicki. Donaldson was the #1 recruit out of Arlington High School in Southern California. He was coached by Bill Grisham and was named the Scholar-Athlete of the school.
On the coaching side, the team bid farewell to assistant coach Craig Ackley but picked up Captain Brian Pendergast. Pendergast is one of the best water polo players to come out of the Academy. As a senior he received the Athletic Excellence Award, was a two-time MVP, three-time NCAA All-American, U.S. Olympic Festival Silver Medalist in 1994, and U.S. Junior National team member in 1995. Pendergast played on his high school water polo in Chicago and will concentrate on the Midwest and East Coast for recruiting. He is currently responsible for the sustainment of weather satellite constellation valued at over $750 million.
The 2002 schedule includes a trip to New Jersey to play four Eastern schools ranked in the top 25 and at least five trips to California to play many top 10 teams. "We also have six teams attending the Air Force "East meets West" tournament in late October," said Ehrlich. "Our parent, relative, and friend support will be a big factor in our success this year. We have more fans than the home teams in many of our games and appreciate the support. We plan on having another Falcon winning season this fall!"