Led by veteran Head Coach Tom Whittemore, the University of Redlands men's water polo team navigated through an up-and-down season amidst a challenging, multi-divisional schedule that included amazing comebacks and heartbreaking losses. The Bulldogs showed multiple bright spots en route to a hard-fought 14-15 overall record and an 8-6 mark in Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) action, which landed it fifth in the final standings. In addition, Redlands saw individual acclaim among a talented core of competitors, which elevated the squad's success of the season.
The Bulldogs faced a tough draw to start the season and registered three losses to NCAA Division I opponents at the UCSD Triton Invite. Nonetheless, the Maroon and Gray took advantage of opportunity by capturing a 9-6 victory over Chapman University during the two-day event. In the win, senior attacker Grant Curry (San Diego, CA) and sophomore utility player Jasen Swan (Glendora, CA) each tallied two scores.
Despite competing at the welcoming Thompson Aquatic Center a week later, their difficult slate continued at the Inland Empire Classic. That weekend, the Bulldogs took on the eventual national champion in the University of Southern California, Concordia University - Irvine in an immediate rematch, Pepperdine University, UC Irvine, and Riverside City College. After a rough game against the Trojans, the Bulldogs challenged the Eagles but fell in a heartbreaking, 11-13 decision. This time, Curry and junior attacker Spencer Allen (Seal Beach, CA) paced the offense with three goals apiece. Redlands ended the tournament with a complete-team effort to take down Riverside City College, 13-11. Four different players scored two goals apiece, while junior attacker Tyler Strabel (Canyon Lake, CA) also added an assist and a steal.
The Bulldogs jumped right into SCIAC action in mid-September with an impressive, 14-9 victory over the University of La Verne. Curry produced one of his strongest games with five goals to go along with one assist and one steal. Senior utility player Mitchell Walker (Taylorsville, UT) registered three goals, one assist, and two steals in a well-rounded effort. In net, sophomore goalkeeper Chris Martinez (Santa Ana, CA) turned in his second 12-save game of the year to minimize the Leopards' chances.
After dropping two in a row, Redlands got back on track with a 12-10 conference win over Occidental College. Allen led the Bulldogs with four goals. As a team, the Maroon and Gray opened the game with a 7-0 run to build enough of a cushion to secure the victory.
Redlands began the month of October with an exciting 9-8 victory over Chapman for its second win against the Panthers this season. In addition to overcoming two power-play scores, the Bulldogs orchestrated a four-goal scoring outburst in the third quarter while holding Chapman to just one to gain the edge against the familiar foe. Senior center-defender Ilan Dayan (Sao Paulo, Brazil), junior attacker Carter Kerwin (Bakersfield, CA), junior utility player Kyle Jackson (Naperville, IL), and first-year attacker Tor Cole (Malibu, CA) each supplied a goal by the 2:16-mark of the frame.
For the Maroon and Gray, the win sparked a revitalizing streak that spanned over the next five games. After Martinez stopped 12 shots en route to a 5-4 victory against Fordham University (NY), the Bulldogs toppled McKendree University (IL) by a score of 17-8. Against the Bearcats, Curry and junior center Cooper Krause (Denver, CO) carried the load on the offensive end with three goals each. After Martinez recorded nine saves and a steal, first-year goalkeeper Jason Gates (San Jose, CA) lifted him for the final eight minutes and made three saves and a steal.
After securing the first two wins of the streak in front of the home crowd, the Bulldogs took their talents to Claremont, where they defeated Iona College (NY) by a score of 13-7 in the Gary Troyer Tournament. Kerwin and Jackson combined offensive efforts for six goals, while Allen provided two goals and two steals.
The streak culminated in a 14-10 win over Division III rival Johns Hopkins University (MD) that included a three-goal, one-assist performance from Allen. Krause also scored three goals in the exciting victory.
Unfortunately, Redlands' run of wins came to an end in a 7-9 defeat to Pomona-Pitzer Colleges on October 10. The Bulldogs played them tough but suffered a cold spell in the third period, which provided just enough of an edge for the Sagehens.
Redlands returned home to handle business in a 7-6 comeback win over Whittier College. Facing a 3-6 deficit at the halftime break, the Bulldogs held the Poets scoreless in the second half and finished strong with three goals in the fourth quarter to earn the hard-fought victory. Curry, Allen, senior center Billy Clifford (Redlands, CA), and Dayan each found the back of the net to close out the game, as Curry also dished out a pair of assists.
However, the tables were turned on the Maroon and Gray in a 7-8 loss to Cal Lutheran just three days later.
The following week, Redlands jumped back in the win column with quality showings over conference foes, Caltech and La Verne. In the team's second 17-goal effort of the season, seven different players registered two goals, while Curry also added three steals in a 17-5 result over Caltech. The Maroon and Gray used a big second half to complete a 10-9 comeback over the Leopards in a physical and intense match. After trailing by two at halftime, the Bulldogs rattled off five straight goals in the third to take the lead and the eventual win. Allen initiated the scoring spurt, while Curry, Jackson, Kerwin, and Krause added to Redlands' firepower.
After dropping their next two contests, it was critical for the Bulldogs to win out in order to remain in contention for the SCIAC Postseason Tournament. Redlands did what it needed to do for the next two games with wins against Occidental College and Chapman. On Halloween night, the Maroon and Gray broke open an early 2-2 tie en route to a 16-9 victory over the Oxy Tigers. Allen impressed with his six-goal, two assist night, while Martinez made 11 stops in nearly 28 minutes of action. The Bulldogs celebrated their seniors with an 11-6 win over Chapman to remain relevant in the postseason race. Defense proved priceless in the game, as Martinez earned seven of his 17 saves in the second quarter alone.
However, the Bulldogs' late-season push fell short in the season finale against the Whittier College Poets, which left Redlands just outside of the top four. A late surge by the Poets put the game and postseason out of reach for the Bulldogs.
It was announced in late November that Curry garnered All-SCIAC First-Team recognition, while Allen gained Second-Team honors. Walker represented the Bulldogs as the recipient of the SCIAC Character Award for exemplary achievement as a student, leader, and athlete. In addition, Curry and Martinez landed on the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches (ACWPC) Division III All-America Second Team, with Allen earning All-America Honorable Mention.
Despite the team's fifth-place finish in the conference, the Bulldog men's water polo team has much to celebrate in the form of individual achievement, team success, and much more. Although replacing the talents of its senior class will be difficult, Redlands holds high hopes of building for the future in the coming season.