Season Outlook: Caltech Men’s Water Polo Building Momentum

Published : Thursday, September 1, 2016 | 4:45 PM

Coming off back-to-back seasons of program records for wins, the 2016 Caltech men’s water polo team must replace some considerable losses to graduation but seems primed to do so.

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“This is a really good group of guys – coachable, accountable and with a serious work ethic,” Head Coach Jon Bonafede said. “We’ve been putting in a lot of hard work and double days. I’ve really been impressed with the team’s commitment and the culture we’ve built.”

The departure of four regular contributors, including single-season exclusions leader Patric Eck and 40-50 man James Blackwood, is of course significant, but with the addition of two former Beavers, two incoming freshmen and a year of experience under the rest of the team’s collective belt, Bonafede’s squad is looking forward rather than back.

“Overall, we’re actually further along at this point than we were last year,” Bonafede said. “Even accounting for what we lost to graduation, we really haven’t missed a beat. We still have some work to do, but it should be another exciting year.”

Two-time Academic All-America and co-captain Chris Bradley (Half Moon Bay, Calif. / Junipero Serra), the program’s single-season record-holder for goals (134) and owner of 285 career tallies, returns for his final year along with a quintet of classmates. That includes Connor Lee (Arcadia, Calif. / Arcadia) and Parth Shah (Saratoga, Calif. / Saratoga), who have each rejoined the team after two- and one-year absences after recovering from injury and studying abroad, respectively.

“Chris has embraced his leadership role – he is pushing other veterans, nurturing the younger guys and helping to build a positive team atmosphere,” Bonafede said. “He’s known for his shooting, but he is sneaky good in every other aspect of the game, and I think we’ll bring more of that out this year. It really helps to have Connor and Parth too as leaders by example. Connor is an explosive player with a heck of a motor, while Parth has good hands and an impressive understanding of the game.”

Sophomores Charles Ross (Wexford, Pa. / North Allegheny) and Eshan Govil (Redwood City, Calif. / Sacred Heart Prep) each saw significant minutes in support roles last year and are primed to contribute as more focal points this season. Ross led the squad in save percentage between the posts while splitting time in the field as Govil ranked second on the squad with 27 assists and tallied 12 goals to rank fourth.

“Both Chuck and Eshan are going to get their chances to contribute in a big way,” Bonafede said. “Chuck was great in goal for us last year and has really augmented his strengths in the field coming into this year. His passion and willingness to do whatever we need is invaluable. Eshan has put on a lot of muscle and swimming last winter helped him a ton. He was more of a facilitator last year, but he can do pretty much anything – I’m not sure yet what his exact role will be, but it will be impactful.”

In goal, sophomore Shaurya Gilani (Chicago, Ill. / Adlai Stevenson) and freshman Bradley Justice (El Cajon, Calif. / Grossmont) are likely to battle for the majority of minutes, with an even split similar to last year a possibility in the early going. Gilani capped his rookie year with a brilliant SCIAC Championships performance in which he racked up 38 saves against just 22 goals allowed in two games.

“Shaurya is showing signs of building on his great SCIAC tournament performance,” Bonafede said. “Bradley has already shown himself to be very vocal and has a great water polo IQ. Both are athletic and versatile enough to help us when not playing in goal. We’re working on a couple different offenses and defenses so that we can be versatile, but we also want to cater to our strengths.”

Freshman Harry Putterman (Malibu, Calif. / Malibu) is the other freshman addition to the squad, boasting a high school league title and growth potential, although he will vie with a handful of other returners for minutes in his first season.

“This squad has a real x-factor,” Bonafede said. “There is a lot of talent and individual strengths, but we need to piece that together and as they gain more experience, we could really explode. We’re working to get the team to a spot where we’ll perform at our best in October and heading into SCIACs.”

Bonafede and the Beavers depart this weekend for the East Coast, where they will face Penn State-Behrend, Salem International University, La Salle University and tournament host Navy.