No. 16 Falcons Open Season at Inland Empire Classic

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The 16th-ranked Air Force water polo team opens the 2012 season this weekend, Sept. 8-9, at the Inland Empire Classic, hosted by Redlands, La Verne and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

The Falcons play a pair of conference games on Saturday, taking on host Redlands and Chapman, while the team heads to Claremont on Sunday for games against host CMS and ninth-ranked Long Beach State.

The Air Force Falcons, ranked 16th in this week's national coaches poll, are coming off an 11-17 season and fifth-place finish at the WWPA Championship. The Falcons return six of seven starters from the 2011 season, and the top eight point scorers from last year. In addition, senior Mike Fish, the Falcons' starting goalkeeper in 2010, will take over the spot vacated by recent graduate Danny Harold.

Among the returning offensive leaders are seniors Cruz Smithson and Dillon Fisher and junior Josh Stedman. Smithson led Air Force in both goals and total points scored last year, while Fisher was the team's assist leader. Meanwhile, Stedman, a first-team All-WWPA selection in 2011, ranked second on the team in goals and points last season while also leading the Falcons in steals.

HEAD COACH Jeff Heidmous...
Jeff Heidmous, the winningest coach in program history, returned to coach the Air Force water polo team in 2010 after spending the previous 11 years working as a senior administrator in the Air Force athletic department.

During his 19-year coaching tenure at the Academy, Heidmous has posted a 256-237-1 career ledger. All 19 of his teams have finished the season nationally ranked in the top 20, including 15 top-15 rankings and five top-10 finishes. In addition, between 1988 and 1996, Heidmous led the Falcons to nine straight appearances in the Western Water Polo Association championship game (then a conference record), winning a pair of WWPA titles (1990 and 1994). His 1994 team compiled a perfect 12-0 record in conference action. Heidmous also led four teams to the NCAA Championship tournament and coached 10 players to 13 All-America citations.

The Redlands Bulldogs enter this weekend with an 0-3 record after dropping contests to Long Beach State (17-5), UC Irvine (18-7) and Chapman (11-9) at the UCI Tournament last weekend.

Redlands is coached by Tom Whittemore, in his 25th year at the helm of the program. The Bulldogs are led by junior Clint Freeman with seven goals in the first three games of the year, while goalkeeper Tyler Abbott has registered 25 stops on the season.

The Chapman Panthers opened their season last weekend at the UCI Tournament, putting together a 1-4 record. The Panthers fell to the host Anteaters (16-8), Long Beach State (16-8), UCLA (15-5) and USC (21-4), while defeating Redlands, 11-9.

Chapman is coached by Eric Ploessel, in his sixth year at the helm of the program. Three All-Americans return for the Panthers this year, including junior Brett Carter, who leads the Panthers' offense with 12 goals on the season, and senior goalie Taylor Roszkos, who has registered 36 blocks through the first five games.

The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Stags, ranked eighth in the 2011 national preseason poll, enter this weekend with an 0-2 record after opening the season at the UCLA Invitational with losses to Pepperdine (13-5) and UC Santa Barbara (19-2). Claremont is coached by Greg Lonzo, in his sixth year leading the program.

The Long Beach State 49ers, ranked ninth in the latest coaches poll, enters this weekend with a 2-0 record after defeating Redlands (17-5) and Chapman (16-8) at the UCI Tournament last weekend.

LBSU is coached by Gavin Arroyo, in his seventh year at the helm of the program. Senior transfer Spencer White and junior Dan Matulis each scored six goals in the first two games to lead the 49ers' offense.

This weekend's meeting between Air Force and Redlands is the 35th all-time between the two teams, with the Falcons holding a 25-9 advantage in the series. Air Force won its only contest against the Bulldogs last season, an 11-8 decision at the WWPA Championship.

Saturday's game between Air Force and Chapman is the 18th in the series, with the Falcons undefeated versus the Panthers. Last season, Air Force won a 12-9 road game over Chapman.

Air Force and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps meet for the 48th time in series history this weekend, with Falcons holding a 31-6 edge in the series. Air Force won the lone meeting between the two teams last season, capturing an 8-4 victory at the WWPA Championship.

Meanwhile, Air Force and Long Beach State will hold their 35th all-time meeting this weekend, with the 49ers leading the series, 26-8. The two teams met each other three times last season, with Long Beach State winning all three contests.

Air Force achieved its highest preseason WWPA ranking in the past seven years, as it was selected to finish fourth in the Western Water Polo Association, as chosen by the conference's head coaches in the 2012 preseason poll. Earning the top spot in this year's poll was Loyola Marymount, which narrowly edged out 2011 champion UC San Diego, earning 116 overall points and seven first-place votes to the Tritons' 114 points and five first-place votes.

UC Davis, which played in last year's title game, earned 100 points to place third, followed by the Falcons with 91 points and Santa Clara with 84 points.

Pomona-Pitzer was selected for a sixth-place finish, followed by Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Redlands in seventh and eighth place, respectively. Rounding out the poll were Whittier, Chapman, La Verne and Occidental.

Senior Cruz Smithson is on the verge of becoming one of the top 20 scorers in Air Force history, needing just four more points to tie Mackie Contreras (`97) for 20th place on the list. Smithson currently has 177 points (133 goals, 44 assists) for his career.

Air Force returns to action Sept. 15-16, when it travels to Palo Alto, Calif., for the annual NorCal Tournament, featuring the top teams in the nation.



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