The Orion

Team plans to end championship drought

Samuel Wolfson

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Misha Sinkevich

Chico State's water polo club player Misha Sinkevich takes a shot last season. The club, founded in 1985, is hoping for its first championship this year. Orion file photo. Photo credit: Veronica Hodur

The Chico State water polo club has yet to win a championship since it began in 1985. But, according to the players and coach, this is going to be the year.

Since former player Cliff Kunkel became the coach in 2010, the team has been a threat to other schools. Kunkel led the squad to three Sierra Pacific Division Championship games in the last four years, but unfortunately the teams lost every game by a small margin.

The team lost two out of 11 games last season, with both against rival UC Berkeley. Chico State ended the 2013 season in second place of the championship game after losing during overtime by a final score of 14-13. After Berkeley beat Chico State in the league finals, they went on to become champions at the national level and were crowned the 2013 Men’s National Collegiate club champions in La Jolla.

Ryan Sevilla

Chico State's water polo club player Ryan Sevilla elevates for a shot during a game last year. Orion file photo. Photo credit: Veronica Hodur

Many of the teams the ‘Cats play against have Division I water polo programs. Schools like Stanford University and UC Davis recruit players for their programs.

“They have the luxury to recruit kids to play for Division I and some do not want to put in the serious hours, so they join their school’s club team,” Kunkel said.

There is reason for optimism going into this season, with at least 13 returners from last season including two 2013 All-Conference players Ryan Sevilla (first team) and Connor Thompson (second team).

Sophomores Thompson and another returner, Matt Buckingham will be getting starting positions.

“We are looking forward to what should be our best season to date with pretty much all our key players returning, including five of seven starters, and a bunch of promising new kids that should plug right in and help us win nationals,” said Nick Reynolds, another key player who had been playing water polo a little over nine years.

Kunkel, a three-time coach of the year, said he thinks there is a serious chance to win the title with all the experience and hardship the team has gone through.

“The team has great chemistry and a comradery that cannot be destroyed,” Kunkel said. “So much talent on this team needs to be refined.”

Chico State will have its season opener against UC Berkeley Oct. 4 at California Maritime Academy in Vallejo.

Samuel Wolfson can be reached at [email protected] or @theorion_sports.

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Team plans to end championship drought