CLAREMONT, Calif. - The Claremont-Mudd-Scripps men's water polo team opens its 2018 season when it heads to Redlands to participate in the Inland Empire Classic on Saturday, taking on Concordia (Irvine) and Southern California, which is currently tied for the No. 1 spot in the nation in the Collegiate Water Polo Association poll with UCLA.
Facing one of the top teams in the nation is not unusual for the Stags, who have frequently had their early-season schedule dotted with Pac 12 opponents. It's a challenge that Head Coach Greg Lonzo has always been willing to take on to get his team prepared for the SCIAC schedule.
"It's such a great opportunity for us to challenge ourselves with those games," said Lonzo. "We get in there and we really work on a lot of little things, and try to make sure our structure is good and compete against some of the best in the country."
The players are also excited for the chance to get in the pool with some of the best players their sport has to offer. Senior Matt Daruty has played against USC, UCLA and Stanford in his career, and he and his teammates are excited for this weekend's battle with the nation's co-No. 1 team.
"We're really pumped, we've been training a lot these last couple of weeks and we're ready to get some competition and see how we stack up this year," said Daruty. "Playing against some probably future Olympians is a really good chance to test how we're doing, and it's great competition to help us get better."
The Stags enter the new season with 15 freshmen and sophomores on their 20 player roster, meaning that a young nucleus is there for potential long-term success. Lonzo feels that Daruty's role, and those of the juniors (Charlie Thomson, Harrison Miller, Zack Rossman, Ethan Lewis), to lead the youthful squad is an important component in building that foundation.
"They're critical. Our juniors and (Matt) are huge to our team right now, with the culture of the team and trying to build expectations for the group," Lonzo said. "Our youth is doing a great job of following and learning from them. I rely on them heavily for the leadership of the group to show the younger guys the path for our program."
Although he is the only senior on the team, Daruty doesn't feel he to carry the leadership burden on his own. Rossman is a first-team All-SCIAC returner as a junior and Thomson, Lewis and Miller all have significant match experience under their belts.
"We have a lot of juniors, so we get a lot of leadership from them," said Daruty. "A lot of these younger guys, while they are freshmen and sophomores, they have a lot of water polo history in their background and come from really good high schools, so they are able to fit in really quickly and adapt to how we play here at CMS."
The infusion of young talent will also give the Stags the ability to rotate players more consistently than they have recently, which will be a big benefit to this year's squad, according to Lonzo.
"The oportunity to be able to play so many players and have such a deep group is kind of a new thing for us over the last couple of years," said Lonzo. "We're excited for the future of the program, and the current group is really talented, and I think we'll have a great season this year."
After traveling to the Inland Empire Classic, the Stags will return to action on Wednesday, Sept. 19, when they host Chapman at 7 p.m. in their SCIAC opener.