#5 Men's Water Polo Opens Season At Bruno Classic

Ben Stevenson returns for the Tigers (photo by Keith Sanpei)
Ben Stevenson returns for the Tigers (photo by Keith Sanpei)

Brown Bruno Classic Tournament Central | CWPA Preseason Poll | 2017 Pacific Online Guide

STOCKTON, Calif. - The No. 5 Pacific men's water polo team opens the 2017 campaign at the Brown Bruno Classic with four games in Providence, R.I., Saturday and Sunday.

The Tigers are fifth in the preseason CWPA Top 20 poll released Wednesday after finishing last season at number four. Pacific has been ranked in the top five for the last 31 consecutive editions of the poll, and in the top 10 for the last 106.

Pacific will open the season on Saturday against No. 14 Bucknell at 8:10 a.m. PT. The Tigers then face Wagner at 2:30 p.m. PT. On Sunday, Pacific faces host No. 15 Brown at 5:00 a.m. PT, before wrapping play at 11:30 a.m. PT against No. 19 St. Francis Brooklyn.

The Tigers have won 30 straight games against teams on the East Coast and is 50-9 all-time against eastern opponents. Pacific turned in a 19-7 record last year, including a 4-0 record finish at last year's Brown Bruno Classic.

The 2017 squad returns 73 percent of the team's goal scoring from last season (235 of 320 goals).

Kale Ai, Devon Thumwood and Tim Reeves are back for their senior campaigns with Thumwood coming off a season in which he scored 28 goals and set-up another 27 in route to All-America honors. Reeves scored 35 goals in a breakout junior campaign. Redshirt senior Kale Ai scored 16 goals with 22 assists last year and was named team captain.

Also returning are last season's impact freshmen, as All-American Engin Ege Colak, Luis Araya, Luke Pavillard and Andrea De Nardi combined for 119 goals last season. Colak led the team with 49, while Araya tallied 33. Pavillard scored 25 goals before a season-ending injury while De Nardi chipping in 12 goals with 15 assists.

Pacific will also welcome back Ben Stevenson, who redshirted the 2016 season. The senior ranks 14th on the Tigers' all-time scoring list entering his final season at Pacific with 126 goals (Thumwood sits 17th at 109).

The Tigers also return both goalkeepers that saw action last season with Alen Osmanovic and Dylan Becker logging all 836 minutes last season. The Tigers also added depth at the position with newcomer John Hedges from the Australian national program to join redshirt freshman Ethan Hansen.

Pacific will look to get off to a quick start to the season after limited practice time together with so many players participating internationally. Stevenson, Araya, Thumwood, Reeves and De Nardi all played in the World University Games, while head coach James Graham served as the coach of Team USA. Pacific alum Alex Obert also played for team USA. Thumwood also played in the World Championships, while assistant coach Joey Gullikson joined the staff of Team USA at the Junior World Championships.

"It was an exciting summer with so many players from our programs - men's and women's - playing internationally this summer," Graham said. "Andrea De Nardi played for the World University Games bronze with France, Tim Reeves played for Australia and Devon Thumwood was with team Canada. With team USA, Ben Stevenson led us in scoring, Luis Araya posted a hat trick against Italy to lead our team in that game. Everyone earned some very valuable experience at an extremely high level, which will help each of them."

The experience did however, cut into the Tigers preseason training schedule as a group.

"Our early season focus is going to be on building a rhythm together for the GCC season," Graham said. "But this team is probably the most balanced team we've ever had at Pacific, from top to bottom. I'm really excited to get started with this group because of our depth and the natural fit of all this talent together. Now we need to get to work and focus on our goals for this season: to win the Golden Coast Conference regular season championship, earn the GCC tournament's automatic bid and go on to the NCAA Tournament. I can't wait to get the season started."

Graham enters his 10th season at the helm of the Pacific men's program, and is three wins shy of tying John Tanner's 148 career wins. Graham's already the program's winningest coach by percentage at .577.

The 2017 season will be the second year of the Golden Coast Conference, with Pacific aiming to grab the first NCAA Tournament bid out of the GCC.

"The Golden Coast Conference is the only conference with every member is among the Top 25 vote getters in the polls. I know it's the GCC's second season of men's water polo, but having an NCAA automatic bid now really marks the start of a new era in college water polo."

The Tigers will face three ranked non-conference teams at the Brown Bruno Classic, opening with No. 14 Bucknell.

Bucknell posted a 23-5 record last season, finishing No. 11 in the final CWPA poll after falling in an NCAA Play-in Game. Pacific is 8-0 all-time against the Bison, including a 15-7 win at last year's Bruno Classic.

Wagner won 10 games in the program's first season of men's water polo last year, finishing at 10-20. The Tigers will be facing the Seahawks for the first time.

No. 15 Brown went 22-8 last season and finished ranked 12th in the CWPA poll last year. The Tigers are 6-0 against Brown, with a 12-8 victory in the Bruno Classic in 2016.

No. 19 St. Francis Brooklyn finished No. 20 in the final poll in 2016 with a 13-14 record. The Terriers own the last victory by an eastern team over Pacific, posting a win back in 2008. Pacific is 6-2 all-time against St. Francis Brooklyn, beating the Terriers 13-4 last season at the Bruno Classic.

Brown will live stream all the matches from Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center. Pacific will provide live stats of the Tigers' contests. Every Pacific water polo match this season, home and away, will have live stats available via TheFOSH.net.  The Tigers will once again offer live streaming video of all home games at Chris Kjeldsen Pool, with coverage on TheW.tv, powered by Stadium.