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Men’s water polo has high expectations for 2017 season

Veteran team looks to reach the NCAA Championships.

The+men%27s+water+polo+team+prepares+for+the+Triton+Invitational+this+Saturday.+
The men's water polo team prepares for the Triton Invitational this Saturday.

The men's water polo team prepares for the Triton Invitational this Saturday.

Alex Ormeno-Manfredi

Alex Ormeno-Manfredi

The men's water polo team prepares for the Triton Invitational this Saturday.

Alex Ormeno-Manfredi, Staff Writer

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Last year, the Long Beach State men’s water polo team struggled to close out games and finished third in the Golden Coast Conference. This year, the team is expecting to finish at the top of the conference and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Water Polo Championships in December.

“We think we have a good chance of making it to conference finals, winning and then having a good chance of making a run in the NCAA’s, because our conference winner gets an auto-bid this year,” junior attacker Austin Stewart said.

As a sophomore last season, Stewart was the second leading scorer on the team with 25 goals, behind teammate and Golden Coast Conference Co-Player of the year Nolan McConnell. McConnell graduated last year and the 49ers will have to make up for his scoring, but the team is still confident in their chances this season.

“This year we have a bunch of seniors and upperclassmen,” junior defender Keegan Wicken said. “This is the first year in the last maybe 10 years that we have a real chance of making the NCAA Championships.”

Wicken, an emerging presence on the defensive side of the pool, looks to improve his game by taking more of a leadership role this season.

“I’m a junior now, I’m one of the older guys, so I’ve got to lead by the front and communicate more,” he said.

The 49ers head to the Triton Invitational at UC San Diego this weekend and will open up their 2017 season with games against Air Force Academy and UC Davis. The tournament features elite competition as 7 out of the 11 teams ended last year in the Top 25 rankings.

“We play two hard-working teams, and I think it will be a good challenge,” Stewart said. “But we should be able to do well this weekend,”

Three key players for the 49ers will be returning to the team after competing overseas at the World University Games in Taiwan. Senior center Duncan Lynde and junior defender Austin Stevenson played with Team USA this past month and junior goalie Thomas Freeman was with his home country Australia.

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