Stockton, Calif. – Over the past several weeks Pacific's men's water polo team has been working hard during the offseason to prepare for the upcoming 2011 season. But for two players of the program, this offseason has a greater meaning for their water polo careers compared to previous seasons.
Junior Tom Koning (Poway, Calif.) and senior Joey Gullikson (Sonoma, Calif.) have been preparing for the long process of trying out for the World University Games team. The Tiger duo talks about the opportunity to be a part of USA Water Polo and try out for the World University Games team. Gullikson, who is still going through the process, will next head to La Jolla, Calif., for the 2011 Fisher Cup hosted by USA Water Polo May 21-22.
More information on the World University Games is available on the official website.
How did the process start for you?
Koning: I would say that this process started for me when I was 12 years old and made the Pacific Southwest Zone Team. After making that team all 11 zones in the country get together, and make a national team for that age group. So I had been doing that since I've been little, but I knew of the World University Games since I came to college and it was one of my goals to one day make that team and represent our country. This year James told me that the first try outs were going to be held at CAL and I went to those with Joey. Then few months ago they made a selection of NorCal, SoCal and East Coast players to try out and train together.
Gullikson: James contacted one of the national team coaches, Guy Baker, and asked him watch me at a tournament. The coach then asked me to come down and train with the University World Games team two weeks ago. And that's pretty much it.
What does it mean to you to be invited to train with the national team?
Koning: It is a huge honor because it gives me the opportunity to show what I can do against some of the greatest players in the US.
Gullikson: It's been a dream to play on the national team with those guys, players like Ryan Bailey that I've looked up to since I was 10 years old. It's pretty sweet to play against them. It's a once in a life time opportunity. When you are training you leave it all out there.
How is training for the University World Games and the tryouts different from training for the regular season and MPSF?
Koning: Training and practices are different because at the WUG practices it is still a try out everyone wants a spot on the team so they are playing for themselves in a way. During season James works us out more physically and gets us in the best shape for games. During the season the coaches and the team go over more game plans and tactics. At the try out the coaches say what they expect and are looking for in each position.
Gullikson: I have to go in on my own time more and put in more work on my own. Swim on my own and try to find ways to make it like a game situation. Even though the team isn't playing games right now I have to game train. I'll make up swim sets on my own and simulate game situations.
How has this changed your offseason since you finished the 2010 season at Pacific?
Koning: It hasn't changed it much training wise because I still do all the workouts in and out of the pool with the Pacific team which are demanding during the offseason. It only adds time in the pool when I get to go train with the National team.
Gullikson: I realized that if I want to do what I want to do, I have to put in the time and work. To make that commitment it takes a lot of sacrifice.
Do you think this experience will help you prepare for MPSF?
Koning: This will really help me prepare for our season because I got to see how some of the best players train. I am able to see things that people are working on and how they warm up. I was also able to experience a new level of water polo that I felt was different from anything I had played before.
Talk about the last tryout, what was your schedule like every day?
Koning: We worked out from 6-9pm on Friday night, 9am-12pm and 3pm-6pm on Saturday, and 9am-1pm on Sunday. Every practice we did some conditioning, drills and then scimmaged
Gullikson: I left on a Friday and trained for two hours on fundamental skills that night like breast stroke kick up and hold it then pass, and shooting. The second day we trained for six hours on Saturday. We scrimmaged the senior team and beat themthe first game. We scrimmaged the junior team and beat them, then scrimmaged ourselves. And we kept repeating that for about six hours. We also worked on man-up possessions. Sunday we trained for four hours and basically did the same thing. We worked on some individual skills in the beginning, shooting, driving, post-ups, center work, and defense. Then scrimmaged the senior team and they beat us pretty good.
Is there anything about the weekend that stood out in your mind?
Koning: I was very surprised to see how many people knew each other and how close the group of people trying out is. Like I said earlier I had been trying out for my age group's national team since I was 12, so some of these players have been going on trips together for many years now. Everyone kind of knows each other and is really nice to each other. In the pool everyone is very competitive and treats everything as a game or competition.
Gullikson: I never really knew how much of a commitment these guys make to USA Water Polo training. But it's basically their life. They train almost eight hours a day. The national team guys just make it their life.
What would it mean personally if you made the team?
Gullikson: I can't even put into words how great it would be, it would be pretty awesome. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Koning: It would be a huge honor to be selected to the final roster and represent our country. Sadly I did not make the next cut, but I will be trying out for the next year's team and use the experience I gained this year to help me make the team next year.
What would it mean to Pacific to have players make the team?
Gullikson: It would give us more recruiting power at Pacific.
Koning: This shows that Pacific's program is going to the right direction by having two of us get to train and make the first selection. When someone makes the team it will show all of the hard work our team has been putting in since James took over the program three years ago. It will mean that the program and James has the ability to produce and develop some of the top players in the country.
Joey what's next for you after this process in terms of playing?
Gullikson: It's helped me gain contacts to go play in Europe. It will help me through that process of being able to go overseas and play professionally. I've talked to teams in Hungary, Croatia, Australia, and Brazil.