Wednesday, December 2, 2009

California Dreamin'

TigerBlog spent a week in Los Angeles back in 1987. It was a trip essentially to visit TB's college friend Paul Glazer, who said that he would be there and that TB and TB's friend Mark Eckel could stay there for the week.

Instead, Paul found out he had to leave on business and had just rented out his extra room to a guy named Ken, who had answered an ad for a roommate the day TB arrived. So, instead of hanging out with an old college friend for a week, TigerBlog instead got to share an apartment with Eckel and a total stranger.

On the last night, Ken took us to a party in Manhattan Beach, and of course Eckel ran into someone who had been a student of his friend (and TB's friend) Ray Clark at Hightstown High years before. Summed up briefly: Eckel goes to California with a friend of his to stay with a friend of his friend's, only that friend isn't there, so they stay with a stranger instead, who takes them to a party at his own friend's house, where Eckel runs into someone who knows his friend from back home.

Small world, no? And this was after Eckel ran into someone he went to grammar school with at Universal Studios.

Anyway, as part of the trip, TB checked out some of the local colleges, including UCLA and USC. For the record, he liked UCLA's campus better but thought Pepperdine was better than both of those – and any other one he's seen since.

TB and Eckel did not go to Loyola Marymount, but even with L.A. traffic, it wasn't that far out of the way.

According to Mapquest, it's 10.84 miles south (mostly on I-405) from UCLA to Loyola Marymount and then another 17.4 miles east (mostly on I-10) from LMU to Southern Cal. Also according to Mapquest, it's another 2,784 miles from USC's campus to Princeton's.

TigerBlog remembers when the idea of hosting the men's water polo Final Four was first brought up, though he can't remember exactly when it was. It was clearly a long time ago, because TB does remember that 2009 seemed so far away at the time.

Now, though, the 2009 men's water polo Final Four is here, and it features Princeton along with the three L.A. schools who are located so close to each other and are getting read to fly across the country to DeNunzio Pool. Maybe the NCAA should have chartered one plane and put all three teams on it.

As an aside, the men's water polo TigerCam video of the team's trip to the Eastern championships two weeks ago is tremendous. Not to beat a dead horse, but nobody can tell me a water polo media guide would have the same impact on anyone.

The event begins Saturday at 3 when Princeton takes on USC, followed by Loyola Marymount and UCLA. The final is Sunday at 2, and there's also a third-place game at noon; tickets are going quickly.

As far as TigerBlog knows, this is the fifth time an NCAA championship event will be held on the Princeton campus. The first was in 1975, when the NCAA wrestling championships were held at Jadwin Gym (Iowa won). Palmer Stadium hosted the men's lacrosse championship in 1981, when a crowd of 13,943 watched North Carolina defeat Johns Hopkins 14-13.

The women's lacrosse Final Four was held at Princeton twice, first in 1990 when Harvard defeated Maryland 8-7 and again in 2004 when Virginia defeated Princeton in the last NCAA final not won by Northwestern.

And now it's water polo's turn. It's a tremendous opportunity for the sport to be showcased far from its Southern California base, and judging by the ticket sales, the response has been great.

College athletics when viewed through the lens of major media outlets is 95% about football and men's basketball. College athletics in reality is about so much more, and that's why the NCAA's marketing campaign of "going pro in something other than sports" is genius.

One of the best parts of being at a school like Princeton is to see so many different sports and to get a feel for the athletes each sports attracts. In the case of water polo, the Princeton team has a roster of 21 players, 13 of whom are from California.

Beyond geography, though, water polo is a sport that requires its athletes be in ridiculous physical shape, and it's an incredibly physical game. Maybe nothing at Princeton (crew? ice hockey?) can equal how hard these athletes have to push themselves physically during the course of a game.

For the uninitiated, the players have to tread water throughout the entire time they're in the pool, and pretty much anything goes under the surface.

Beyond that, it's one of the sports with a small community, so basically everyone knows everyone else.

And if you can't root for Princeton coach Luis Nicolao, who can you root for?

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