Merced College

MC men's water polo eyes NorCal berth

Scott McCall is excited.

For the first time in awhile the Merced College men’s water polo coach has experience. He’s got depth, pace and what he hopes will be the right personnel pieces to get the Blue Devils back in the NorCal Tournament after missing out last season.

“We’ve got the most returners we’ve had in a long time,” McCall said. “Luke (Baum) has been to the NorCal Tournament and guys like Greg (Bracamonte) and Kevin (Richey) were big contributors for us last year.

“We’ve got 17 guys out and it’s led to some pretty spirited practices.

“We did pretty well at our scrimmage, so I’m excited to see where we stand.”

McCall has seven sophomores returning and has added a freshmen class loaded with local talent such as Kaleb Jones, JT Lightfoot and Richard Cagle.

The Blue Devils will open the season at the West Valley Tournament this weekend, taking on a number of teams that McCall expects to battle with for a spot in the NorCal Tournament.

“These will be important games, because I think the teams one through eight are going to be really close at the end of the year,” McCall said. “It’s our chance to separate ourselves with head-to-head wins.

“We’ve got speed this year, which will allow us to play aggressively on defense and hopefully create some counter-attack opportunities.

“They changed the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 seconds this year, so you really need to get down the pool and set up fast. Hopefully that will be a strength for us.”

The change may prove more difficult for first-year women’s water polo head coach Karin Umemura.

The former University of Hawaii star managed to compile a 16-player roster after being hired late in the spring to replace Bill Halpin.

But a number of those players are new to water polo, meaning she’ll have a short bench early in the season.

MC lost all of its starting field players, either to graduation or transfer, but Umemura does have five returners who contributed to last season’s state tournament team to build around.

Goalkeeper Allison Ghimenti, Courtney Frampton, Emily Heindel, Liz Menefee and Nicole Alt all saw quality minutes for the Lady Devils a year ago.

MC will open the season at home today against San Joaquin Delta. The ball drops at 3:30 p.m.

“We’ve really just concentrated on getting our fundamentals down,” Umemura said. “(Today) will give a better idea of where we’re at.

“We know we don’t have a lot of depth, but our kids have trained hard to prepare for that.

“Allison and Courtney both played in the Junior Olympics this summer to get themselves ready for the season.

“We haven’t had a lot of time together, but right now we’re just looking to put in some good efforts and keep improving.”

This story was originally published September 4, 2012 11:10 PM.

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