After a strong preseason and offseason program, the Iona College men's water polo team is headed upwards under the direction of 19th year head coach Brian Kelly as the team looks to the fast approaching 2013 season. This season with a renewed focus on communication and defensive strategy, along with a large roster of hardworking players, the Gaels hope to be in the hunt all season for a CWPA Championship.
"The team is looking tremendous and we are working extremely hard," said Kelly. "We have a ton of talent and are deep at all positions."
The offense will be led by junior Jake Lloyd, one of the most dynamic scorers in the country. Lloyd scored 64 goals a season ago to earn CWPA All-North Second Team honors. Lloyd will be helped along the perimeter by the big arms of junior Kyle Elmore, sophomore Zach Presto and junior Jimmy Ramaley.
Elmore found the net 32 times a season ago while Ramaley scored 18 goals and Presto added 17 of his own.
Inside, the two-meter offense will be led by junior Ian Thompson. Thompson broke out with a strong spring non-traditional season with the Gaels and during summer competition.
Adding depth to the position will be senior Lee Stiles. Stiles can play both inside and out, but has shown an ability to pose problems for the opposition with his ability to attack in two-meter and post up opportunities. Stiles is coming off a 43 point season on 23 goals and 20 assists in 2012.
Senior Bryan Driscoll added 20-plus pounds to his frame from last season and with his ability to score on step outs will be a tough cover inside. Presto will also see time at the center position.
A greater emphasis on shot blocking drills and help defense drills was stressed in preseason as well as an overall better level of communication throughout the team that Kelly hopes will help on both ends of the water.
"As a team, we have to be much better at shot-blocking covering the counter and help defending from last season," said Kelly. "We've shown major strides in all areas thus far through training camp. The improvements are coming from smarter offensive possessions leading to less counter attacks."
Defensively, the Gaels will be led by senior goalkeeper Stefen Hill, who is entering his fourth season as the Gaels' starter. Hill recorded 209 saves a year ago and enters his final season with 654 stops in his career. Behind Hill, the Gaels also have junior Mike Pufunt and sophomore Matt McCruden in net.
Defensively in the two-meter, the Gaels will look from contributions from Lloyd and senior Matthew Stelnicki. Stelnicki is described by Kelly as "the hardest worker on the team" and will outwork the oppositions two-meters with his tremendous conditioning, counter spinning and fronting.
Lloyd's leg strength is as good as anyone's and he can force the opposition's front court offense back by outmuscling the two-meter opposition with his strength. Senior Jonathan Hernould and Presto are big physical center defenders who can play a physical or quick game in defending the opposition's two-meter.
Kelly noted that senior Sean Davis and Ramaley have helped to bring a new level of leadership in the water to the team with their communication skills and are helping everyone get on the same page.
Rounding out the squad's depth will be increased roles for juniors Nicholas Joslyn and Eric Corley. Both stood out during training camp and are hitting their shots from their respective right and left sides. The Iona newcomers are showing a lot of talent and will be look to for contributions early on.
"Our newcomers are really beginning to step up and insert themselves in practices, said Kelly. "We're going to have a solid foundation for years to come."
Sophomore transfer Gerardo Sanchez Rivera and freshman Elerick Curet are a pair of Puerto Rico national team players that have stood out early along with freshmen Matt Rothman and Hudson Grieve.
Rothman is a fast swimmer, lefty shooter who projects anywhere in the pool. Grieve has already adapted to the speed of the college game with his conditioning and is solid on both sides of the ball.
Will Diemer is a scorer who plays high in the water and using his strong lower body to create a strong shot. Patrick Dougherty will be counted on to contribute in the two-meter offense. Chris Ellis is a great shooter and solid defender at taken away his opponent's position in the water. Dan Fleck projects to a primary two-meter defender and can be counted on to defend well one-on-one. Dominick Mirt has solid overall skills and is physical on both sides of the ball.