Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - September 3, 2010

Former prep rivals hoping to bring success to Cardinal

by Rick Eymer

They're all on the same side now, though Sacred Heart Prep grads Paul Rudolph and Tim Norton still kid Menlo School grads Scott Platshon and Alex Avery about results from Central Coast Section water polo championship games.

Platshon and Avery can counter with their own salvos. After all, the two schools met for the CCS title all four years the Stanford sophomores were in high school. Menlo won twice and Sacred Heart Prep won twice.

These days they are all on the same page, looking for Stanford's first men's water polo national title since 2002. The Cardinal opens its season Saturday against Pomona-Pitzer at the UCI Invitational in Irvine.

The four locals are part of a larger picture that could lead the Cardinal and coach John Vargas to the Final Four, which will be held at California this year. Stanford hosts the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament.

"I think we will be more balanced this year than we have been," Vargas said. "We'll be able to spread the ball around a little more because we have a lot of weapons on offense."

With the loss of Menlo School grad Jimmie Sandman to graduation, Vargas feels the defense will be a key this season.

"We were a little spoiled with Jimmie," Vargas said. "He was the best goalie in the country the past few years. Now we have to pick up the defense and do a better job."

Redshirt junior Brian Pingree enters the season as the starting goalie, with Platshon behind him. Seniors Alex Pulido, Jeffrey Schwimer and Sage Wright also will play vital roles as the Cardinal looks to solidify the defense.

Rudolph became one of Stanford's most dependable players last year and Vargas thinks he's ready to take another step forward.

"He is just so explosive, so strong and so quick," Vargas said. "He's getting better the more he learns. He was one of the top freshmen last year and he could be even better this year."

Rudolph came to water polo relatively late, turning in his soccer cleats for a polo cap in the seventh grade.

He'd always been a swimmer and when a friend of the family suggested he try water polo, the sport made quite a splash on Rudolph.

"I kept signing up," he said. "I loved being in the pool. I'm not so graceful on land anymore."

While attending Stanford had always been a dream for Rudolph, he didn't give playing water polo there much thought until recruiters started paying attention to him.

"I really didn't start to excel until high school," Rudolph said. "I have been surrounded by great mentors since I started playing. Once coaches started talking, I paid more attention to recruiting."

Rudolph was one of five players to score at least 30 goals for the Cardinal last season. Stanford (21-4 in 2009) remained in postseason contention until the final game of the MPSF tournament.

"We were so close," Rudolph said. "It's too bad the season ended prematurely; it adds more fuel to the fire this year. It's motivating and makes us even hungrier."

Schwimer scored 24 goals at the 2-meter position last year and Pulido added 15 goals. Wright missed the season following knee surgery but he was third on the team with 39 goals in 2008.

"It's nice to have Sage back," Vargas said. "He brings maturity to the team. Schwimer brings a lot of toughness. He plays an important position and we work off him."

Driver Jacob Smith leads a quality junior class. Smith recorded 37 goals on the season and is joined by Peter Sefton, Eric Clapper and Ryan Kent.

In addition to the four local sophomores, there's also Travis Noll and his 32 goals scored, Porter Kalbus, Ryan Brown and Andrew LaForge.

Redshirt freshmen include Ian Gamble, Brogan Miller, Hunter Ploch, Austin Trinkle and Forrest Watkins. Freshmen Conner Claery and Nick Hoversten are also on the roster.

Everybody on the roster played in the Under-20 or senior nationals. The younger club won the national title while the senior team finished fourth.

"It's great to be able to play at that level and win," Vargas said. "Every top school had a team in the senior nationals."

As for Rudolph, knowing what to expect makes a difference.

"You just imagine all the best high school players without the guys who are just playing to get out of P.E.," Rudolph said. "Everything is more competitive, practices and games. I really started to notice it at the NorCal tournament last year. I just suddenly thought, 'whoa, this is different.' It was great to be exposed to that."

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