Pacific men’s water polo ranked No. 6 in the nation
University of the Pacific’s men’s water polo team is entering its first season in the West Coast Conference ranked sixth in the nation in the Collegiate Water Polo Association preseason poll.
The team is coming off a thrilling season in which it won the Golden Coast Conference championship and reached the semifinals of the NCAA Championship Tournament.
Pacific looks to continue the momentum with fifteen new players joining the program and one starter returning among the active competitors.
“We have a big roster this year,” said Head Coach James Graham, who is entering his 16th year at Pacific. “Obviously, it’s a challenge when you have a lot of guys, but it fuels competition. People are going to be fighting for spots every single day.”
Mihailo Vukazic, who was an honorable mention All-America selection by the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches last season, is the lone returning starter. In 2022, he scored 67 goals to tie for the team lead. He had three goals in the NCAA semifinal and was named as a first-team selection to the NCAA All-Tournament Team. He scored in 25 of the 28 games last season.
"With our team, we will have high energy," Vukazic said. "Fans should be ready to see guys giving everything they have for the team. They will see our strong bond and feel it, 100%, they’ll feel it."
Other key players include fifth-year Rene Peralta, who tallied a career-best 18 goals and 17 assists. Junior Gil Gvishi, who scored a career-best 14 goals with 10 assists last season, will also be counted on. Junior Filip Norell returns after scoring seven goals last season, including a career-high four against Long Island.
The team will be helped by three experienced new players. Senior Aleksa Šišakovic transferred to Pacific after St. Francis (Brooklyn) discontinued its athletics program. He scored 64 goals for the Terriers to lead the Northeast Water Polo Conference and joined Vukazic on the honorable mention ACWPC Academic All-America list. Senior goalkeeper Lewis Gale returned to provide an experienced netminder. The Stockton native played three seasons for the Tigers and saw his most game action in 2019. Stefan Vavic joined the Tigers as a graduate student after completing his undergraduate degree at USC.
The active roster of 27 student-athletes includes four seniors–Peralta, Vavic, Šišakovic and Gale–along with nine juniors, five sophomores and nine freshmen.
The team will participate in three multiple-day tournaments early in the season at the Bruno Classic in Providence, Rhode Island; the Gary Troyer Tournament in Claremont, California and an invitational at Santa Clara.
Pacific’s home opener is September 16–17 with back-to-back contests against No. 3 UCLA and No. 1 Cal at the Douglass M. Eberhardt Aquatics Center. Like Pacific, UCLA was a national semifinalist a year ago. Cal won the 2022 title over USC.
"At Pacific, when there is a home water game, it’s something else," Vukazic said. "We have fans like no one else has in the country. It’s going to be a fun experience for anyone who comes and watches our games."
The West Coast Conference season will start Saturday, Oct. 14 when the Tigers host No. 17 California Baptist in a featured event as part of Pacific Homecoming and Family Weekend. It will be the inaugural WCC men’s water polo contest, as both the Big West and WCC are sponsoring men’s water polo for the first time this season.