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Men's water polo plays for national tourney bid at home

By Christopher Wuensch
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Friday, October 24, 2003

A trip to the national tournament is on the line this weekend for the Arizona men's water polo team as championship season kicks off Saturday in Tucson.

Arizona plays host to the Southwest Division Championship tournament tomorrow and Sunday at the Student Recreation Center. The winner receives an automatic bid into the national tournament.

Despite being ranked No. 2 in the nation among club teams, the Wildcats need to win the division championship to qualify for the trip to nationals at Texas A&M in College Station, Texas.

Standing in Arizona's path to advance are conference foes Utah, Colorado's A and B squads, Utah State and the Colorado School of Mines.

The Wildcats enter the weekend in first place in the Southwest Conference with an unblemished 8-0 record. Arizona is 16-2 overall and its 95 points places it right behind reigning club champions and current No. 1 Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo with 100.

"This is a make-or-break weekend for us," UA senior Sean Devlin said. "We are using this tournament as another steppingstone to reach nationals."

Should the Wildcats win the Southwest Conference title, it would be the second time in as many years and seventh in the last nine.

Last year's conference MVP, senior Anthony Delorenzo, leads all Wildcat scorers, entering the championship with 42 goals on the season. Eric Qualls is second on the team with 30.

Utah and Colorado's A squads represent the biggest challenges in this weekend's tourney. After Saturday's bracket play, the Wildcats will face both squads during Sunday's matchups. Colorado's A squad is ranked No. 16 in the country, but the Buffalos are not a strong as in years past. According to Devlin, reputation goes a long way in determining seeds, and he believes that Utah is actually the stronger of the two squads.

"Utah is the team to beat," he said.

With the nationals within reach, Devlin, last year's head coach, thinks this weekend will go a long way in determining how well the Wildcats will fare in Texas.

"This weekend will be great for building an understanding of where we are at," he said.

According to Devlin, past UA teams reached their peak before nationals, but this season's squad may be different.

"This week is where it all counts," he added.

The winner of this weekend's tourney will advance to play Virginia in the first round of nationals. Games are scheduled to begin Saturday morning with the UA jumping in the pool first to take on Colorado's B squad at 9:30.

The games will continue throughout the day with the Wildcats playing again at 3:30 p.m. Sunday's action will conclude with the championships, set to begin at 4 p.m.

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