April 20, 2024

Joseph Starr, Junior, Business administration major

California Baptist University men’s water polo team has been a dominant force this season, whether it is playing in scrimmages, tournaments or conferences. The dedication these players put into the game is impressive, especially considering the difficulty level of water polo as a sport.

Men’s water polo players Tristan Felberg, senior film major, and Matt Olsen, junior health science major, shared their progress this season not only as individuals but also as a team. They noted that the year had been fraught with many challenges, especially when clashing with rivals.

“UC Davis and UC San Diego, just because we have a lot of history with them,” Felberg said. “Last year we beat UC San Diego in the semi-finals, and then we ended up losing to UC Davis in the finals — (there is) definitely a little bit of a rivalry there.”

However, unlike many other CBU sports, neither the men’s nor women’s water polo team plays CBU’s rival, Grand Canyon University. This has forced the team into a unique position where it has not just one rival, but rather multiple schools to beat. These rivalries force them to always be at the top of their game.

Olsen said the team has been doing well competing at a high level and has celebrated successes.

However, they are also aware of shortcomings.

“We are beating the teams we need to beat and we are successful early in the game, but when it comes down to finishing, we have not been successful,” Olsen said.

Felberg shared similar sentiments as his teammate, acknowledging that the team has progressed to a higher level this season.

“We definitely have a lot of good games,” Felberg said. “In the past, we might not have been as close with these teams that are ranked above us.

“I think we are doing a good job this season of being in there with all these close games. (It is) just coming down to execution and hopefully getting some more wins against those big teams.”

Beyond technical shortcomings, the team also deals with external challenges experienced at away games.

“We (played) Santa Clara at Santa Clara, which is a big game for our conference,” Olsen said. “After that, we (played) Air Force at Air Force. It’s really hard to breathe out there because of the altitude, so they have that really good home advantage.”

Despite such challenges, the team has persevered and moved forward, accomplishing many of the goals set for the season.

Felberg shared his assessment of the team moving forward into the semi-finals and finals.

“I think we are right there,” Felberg said. “I think now that we’ve played (conference teams) and know how they are going to play, all we can do is just go out there and get that win. It comes down to just a couple of plays, and I think we can do it.”

Kevin Rosa, men’s water polo head coach, discussed the season so far and what it has been like leading the team as they continue their push forward in the conference, especially with how he cultivates a culture of winners.

“The team enjoys being with each other,” Rosa said. “When we are playing our best, when we have energy and we’re excited and cheering each other on, that’s when we’re playing our best. (At) practices, obviously (we) want to work hard and push each other and do everything we can to become the best team possible. (We try to) enjoy ourselves as we’re working hard.”

Rosa gave a glimpse into what that hard work looks like. The practice schedule consists of intense conditioning in the mornings along with weight room training three times a week. This is on top of regular practice in the pool where they work on plays and drills, not only demonstrating the dedication necessary by these athletes to participate in such a grueling schedule, but also the kind of athlete needed to achieve this.

He also shared that the team lost many experienced players, graduating nine seniors last year. Even with such a young team and a packed schedule, Rosa is confident in the team’s ability to perform above and beyond expectations, sharing how he meets the challenge of a potentially less experienced team.

“We’ve done it with depth,” Rosa said. “I think last year the top may have been a little bit heavier, (but) I think now we can go a little bit deeper along the bench.

“Energy-wise it seems we can keep up, so it’s not the energy level that’s hurting us in the fourth quarter. It could be some nerves or just stepping up and making a play when we need to late in the game.”

Tying in the mental side of the game, Rosa’s players attend the sports psychology program on campus for half an hour per week to learn to deal with aspects of the game such as anxiety and stress and to practice visualizing success.

The men’s water polo team continues to push forward through the season with Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) championships coming up Nov. 18-20.

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