PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The second season in the state-of-the art Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center begins when the No. 16 Brown men's water polo team dives into the 2013 campaign on Saturday, kicking off a string of five games in two days during the eight-team Bruno Fall Classic. The Bears aim to improve upon last year's 29-4 record, fifth-place finish at the Collegiate Water Polo Association Eastern Championship and year-end No. 14 national ranking. A successful season by any measure, seventh-year head coach Felix Mercado stresses consistent daily improvement for his team in order to eclipse the high mark set in 2012.
Brown will get a chance to gauge its preseason progress in Saturday's opener against No. 3 Stanford at 10:15 a.m., followed by Connecticut College and Ivy League rival Harvard later in the evening. All games during the Bruno Fall Classic will be streamed live at BrownBears.TV via the Ivy League Digital Network. Fans can subscribe and view games by purchasing yearly, monthly, weekly or daily packages.
The Bears seized the 2012 opening weekend en route to an 8-0 start and are primed for another impressive start in this season's opening stretch.
"Starting strong is important but you don't have to win every game to have a good start," Mercado said. "We're playing four top-10 teams from the best conferences in the country [in the first two tournaments]. While we're showing up to try to win those games, whether we win or lose, it's making sure the team makes significant improvement every minute, every quarter of the game. I'm less concerned with going undefeated and more concerned with getting better. You can lose and still get better."
A glance down Brown's schedule reveals the CWPA Eastern Championship on Nov. 22-24, which the Bears will host this season. Despite a grueling conference schedule wedged between the season opener and November's championship, Mercado and the Bears have visions of hoisting the CWPA Eastern Championship trophy in their home pool.
"They're expanding the CWPA tournament to 12 teams," Mercado said. "There's no guarantee we'll be one of those teams, but if we do what we're supposed to do, worst case scenario, we can qualify for an at-large. Because of that, the preparation goes a little differently. We don't have to worry about taking an early loss here or there. We can just focus on getting better. If there's any pressure, it comes from hosting. We don't want to lose in our own pool."
The Bears will miss the on-command scoring of four-time All-American Svetozar Stefanovic, who graduated in 2012 after his fourth-straight CWPA Northern Division Player of the Year nod. This year's roster is stocked with suitable heirs to the title of Brown's top offensive threat, however, and Mercardo notes that many players have adjusted to new roles for the greater good of the team.
"You don't score 100 goals four out of five years by accident," Mercado said of Stefanovic, "but he also had some great teammates around him. Deservedly so, he was the main component of our offense, but the way we play water polo isn't going to change. The system stays the same, but different people are going to fill different roles."
Junior Henry Fox (Mercer Island, Wash.) is the team's top returning scorer after sinking 67 goals and landing on the Northern Division First Team in 2012. Senior James McNamara (Encino, Calif.), also a First Team All-Northern Division pick, dished out more assists (71) and snagged more steals (63) than anyone on last year's squad, while junior Nick Deaver (Orinda, Calif.) eclipsed the 40-goal and 40-assist mark in 2012. Mercado claims Fox will expand his role defensively and McNamara will be called upon to score more goals in 2013.
Senior goalie Walker Shockley (Diamond Bar, Calif.), who Mercado calls the most consistent goalie he's ever coached, is primed to protect the net again after making 159 saves and stopping 59 percent of opposing shots during last year's campaign.
Five freshmen dot the Brown roster, and Mercado expects each one to play immediately after the class showed up to training camp in top shape. "We need them to contribute because if they don't contribute, we're not going to succeed," Mercado said of his freshmen class, which he called the most coachable incoming group he's seen at Brown.
This fall also marks the first full men's season for assistant coaches Mark Lawrence and Kate Flanagan. Lawrence joined the women's staff for the spring 2012 season and now has a full men's preseason on his resume, while Flanagan brings high-level Division I experience from her playing days at UCLA.
The Bears play 10 straight home games between the first two tournaments and open CWPA Northern Division play when they host the Engineers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on Sep. 14. Beginning on Sep. 21 at No. 10 St. Francis Brooklyn, 11 straight Northern Division tilts and a three-game set at the Santa Clara Bronco Invitational fill out the regular season schedule. Brown will look to make repeat appearances to the championship games at both the Ivy League Championships on Oct. 20 at Penn and the Northern Divisional Championships at Harvard on Nov. 9-10. The Bears then cap their November slate by hosting the Eastern Championships from Nov. 22-24.