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Water polo dives into 2004 season

KEVIN B. KLAUS/Arizona Daily Wildcat
The UA men's club water polo team practices at the Rec Center Sunday evening. The Wildcats are ranked third in the nation and will host the Cactus Classic, Oct. 8-10.
By Kyle Kensing
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, September 16, 2004
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2003 Southwest Conference champs seek repeat effort

It's 5 p.m. at the Student Recreation Center pool. All of the bikini-clad college girls may have already gone home for the day, but there's an even greater reason for this group of nearly 20 UA men to head outside for a dip: The season starts in less than two weeks for the UA men's club water polo team.

Arizona will seek its fourth consecutive Southwest Conference title this season, coming off a 25-4 performance in 2003 that included an undefeated conference record and fourth overall finish nationally.

Talk of this week's Monday Night Football coincides with light stretching once the team hits the pool deck, but the conversation is quickly interrupted with a shout of, "Let's go!"

No coaches are present, but that doesn't keep the third-ranked team in the nation from getting practice started right away.

As the squad goes through its usual warm-up routine of laps and passing drills, words of encouragement can be heard shouted from the three player-coaches from various places around the pool.

"At the end of (last year), we sat down together and established a system," said junior Jeff Dunnam, the team's club president and a player-coach of the Wildcats' unique leadership by committee. "I run the drills (during practice), and I nominated a few guys to lead in the water, help out the younger guys."

Dunnam is one of a few Wildcats who lead the team both in the water and as a coach on the sidelines, along with seniors Sean Devlin and Brian Snell.

A meticulous half-hour of warm-up drills precede the team breaking into three groups, each stationed before a goal.

The players line seven across about 20 feet from the goal. Each one fires a shot - one after another - with breathtaking speed.

UA looks sharp, as its annual home meet looms in the near future. The Wildcats host the Cactus Classic at the Rec Center pool Oct. 8-10.

Each attempt is followed with the sound of leather-against-hand, or a soft swish from the net, then an audible groan from either the missing shooter or the goalie who let one slip past.

Dunnam said the team is a tight-knit-unit, all "automatic friends."

But that doesn't prevent them from going at each other with everything they have, however, with their competitive fires never relenting.

The Wildcats return everyone from 2003's dominant lineup, and welcome the addition of solid transfers, including Brent Reagen from Iona.

Dunnam said Reagen will add more firepower to the already-potent UA attack.

"(Playing and coaching)'s a lot easier when there is a group of good guys around," former club president and current co-captain Devlin said. "This year we've got a lot of good guys."

Senior Anthony Delorenzo and junior Eric Qualls, along with new addition Reagen, will have significant roles in UA's success, Dunnam said.

The road to another UA Southwest title and a national championship is not without its roadblocks, as Dunnam pointed out.

"Colorado has always given us a good rivalry," Dunnam said.

The Buffaloes have posed the greatest challenge to UA's dominance in the Southwest Conference, and the two will be jockeying for a top seed in November's conference tournament, to be held in Tucson.

"Nationally, Cal-Poly and Michigan are always very competitive every year," he added. "Michigan has been a big rival of ours the past few seasons."

Cal-Poly and Michigan are the only two squads ranked ahead of UA by the Collegiate Water Polo Association.

Arizona's performance last season and preseason rank have expectations high. The Wildcats look forward to the challenge, Devlin said.

"It's going to be a really good season," he said.

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