Knez had 18 saves in Pepperdine’s 16-7 win over LMU on Sept. 9
The Pepperdine Waves men’s water polo team had a 9-3 advantage over the visiting Cal State Fullerton Titans at Pepperdine’s Raleigh Runnels Memorial Pool on Sept. 17. However in a short span just before halftime, the Titans scored three consecutive goals to trim the Waves’ lead to three points.
Pepperdine goalie Antonio Knez, a graduate student transfer from Princeton, didn’t hang his cap-adorned head though.
“We are a very, very talented team,” he said. “There wasn’t a single moment in the game where we were worried we were going to lose.”
Waves head coach Terry Schroeder told the team at halftime to not let Cal State Fullerton take control of the contest.
“We can’t have those type of runs,” he said. “Don’t let a team grab momentum.”
Pepperdine, the fourth-ranked squad in the nation, did so after the break.
Freshman center Chase Wilson scored Pepperdine’s 10th goal on the Waves’ second possession of the third quarter. The Waves then tossed in four straight scores to grab a 14-6 lead, and the squad’s defense, anchored by Knez in front of the net, stymied a majority of the Titans’ scoring attempts. Knez finished the match with 7 saves, while Pepperdine secured a 17-10 victory.
Knez’s performance in the net ended a five-day period that began with him being named the West Coast Conference Player of Week on Sept. 12. He garnered the recognition after having a total of 35 saves in 70 minutes of play with a .686 save percentage in the Waves’ matches against Loyola Marymount University and top-ranked California the week before.
Knez said receiving the WCC weekly honor was good recognition of Pepperdine’s team defense.
“It’s the result of everyone playing good defense and having the shooters shoot exactly where we want them, and then me just doing my part,” he said.
Knez had 18 saves in Pepperdine’s 16-7 win over LMU on Sept. 9. He tallied 17 saves in his team’s 10-9 loss to Cal the next day. Knez had two saves in the Waves’ 27-10 victory over Westcliff two days after winning Player of the Week. He recorded eight saves in the Waves’ 13-8 victory over UC Santa Barbara later that day. Knez had five saves in Pepperdine’s 30-3 triumph over Cal State Maritime Academy hours before they downed Cal State Fullerton.
Knez aims to start matches with a few good saves.
“Ideally, I’m happy with holding teams to less than six goals,” he said. “That is where I say, ‘OK, this was a good game.’”
Schroeder said in the past few seasons Pepperdine has been a squad fueled by offense. This year’s version of the bunch has deadeye scorers, but the Waves are also raising and waving their hands above the water to deter opposing scorers also. Knez, who tallied 587 career saves as the Princeton Tigers goalie before graduating earlier this year, is key to Pepperdine’s defensive effort, Schroeder noted.
“All the guys see we have a good goalie,” the coach said. “When the goalie is playing well and making good saves, the players on the perimeter get excited and play good defense too.”
Knez was an All-American honorable mention one season for Princeton. He also tallied several Northeast Water Polo Conference honors.
Knez, a Dubrovnik, Croatia, native, began playing club water polo at age 11. The 6-foot-4 athlete placed at goalie because he was “tall and skinny,” he said.
Knez believes he would have been an effective field player in the water also.
“I’m a lefty and a decent swimmer now,” he said. “I like to think that I would have a good shot if I was a player.”
Knez shouted defensive directions to his teammates and deterred scoring strikes with his arms and body during the match against Cal State Fullerton. The goalie even practiced defensive maneuvers during a stoppage in play.
Knez said the Waves have gradually improved their team defense since the preseason and are now coordinated.
“There is stuff we can improve on, but we have become more disciplined on defense,” said Knez, noting the Waves play a high-press defense. “It’s a specific type of defense. As a goalie, I really like it because there is a lot of responsibility on me. So far, it has been working really well.”
Senior attacker Christian Hosea scored two of his four goals in the first minute and a half of the contest against the Titans. Center defender Nico Tierney had three goals and graduate student driver Ryan Brosnan,junior center Matty Walsh, and Wilson each had two goals. Sophomore utility Milo Joseph, graduate student utility Kaden Kaneko, and senior attacker Andrew Outcalt also scored a goal apiece.
Schroeder said the Waves were knocked off their game a bit due to the Titans’ physical play in the pool and how the referees officiated the matchup. However, it is a game Pepperdine can learn from, the coach noted.
“Its part of the stepping stones that are along the way to getting better,” Schroeder said. “We have done a good job of building team culture and trusting each other and growing together.”
Sophomore attacker Conor Brough had seven goals in the victory over Cal Maritime. Joseph had four goals. Outcalt and junior attacker Dane Howell each had three goals. Wilson, sophomore attacker Adam Csapo, graduate student attacker Curtis Jarvis, and Clay Kaneko, Kaden’s brother and a junior attacker, each had two scores. Kaden, Walsh, sophomore center defender Tanner Turrall, and redshirt sophomore center Ryan Reagan tossed a goal each.
Pepperdine, Knez noted, has a group of talented scorers.
“When we are working together and making the extra pass and beating the defense together that is when we can say we had a good game,” he said.
The Waves have a 9-1 record. They began the season with wins over Fordham, Brown, Harvard, and Wagner College before beating LMU. The squad hits the pool in the three-day MPSF Invite in Los Angeles beginning on Friday with a matchup against UC San Diego.
Schroeder said Pepperdine expects to play well in the invite and throughout the rest of season. The team aims to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in December.
“This is a special group that has the potential to make it to the tournament,” he said. “We are excited to see where this team can go. If we are in the tournament, we have the potential to beat anyone.”