Navy is in over its head vs. Cal-Berkeley Top-ranked team has 2 Olympians

November 29, 1991|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Correspondent

ANNAPOLIS -- Navy's water polo players will be able to tell their grandchildren about this one. Better still, they can tell their girlfriends about it next summer.

If they're at a party and an American water polo match from the Olympics in Barcelona is on television, the Mids will be sure to point out Chris Humbert, a 6-foot-7 left-hander.

"If they want to impress some chicks," said Navy coach Mike Schofield, "they can say they guarded Humbert in the NCAAs."

That's what they will do, or attempt to do, when they confront Humbert and top-seeded California-Berkeley today in the first round of the NCAA championships in Long Beach, Calif.

Navy, playing in the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in seven years, is seeded eighth. The only other team from the East in the final eight is No. 7 Slippery Rock. The top six teams are from California -- Cal, No. 2 Pepperdine, No. 3 UCLA, No. 4 California-Irvine, No. 5 Long Beach State and No. 6 California-San Diego.

Navy's assignment is staggering. In a tournament at Stanford last July, the Midshipmen were routed by Cal-Berkeley, 15-3, even though the winners were without their two best big players.

Humbert -- the only college player on the U.S. national team, but its leading scorer last summer -- was at the world championships, and Cal-Berkeley teammate Dirk Zien, a 6-7 German known as "RoboCop," was playing for his country's national squad.

"We'll have to be beyond great to stay in the game," Schofield said. "Cal is as good a college team as I've seen in eight or 10 years.

"Of their seven starters, six have represented the U.S. in international, senior national or junior national competition. The seventh guy is Zien. Their starters average 6-5, 210. Ours average 6-0, 175."

Navy, whose highest finish in the NCAAs was a sixth in 1986, is led by senior Luis Nicolao, who this season broke Tom Popp's academy career scoring record with 337 points and was co-MVP in the Eastern Championships this month at Brown.

Predictably, Nicolao is from California, recruited from Bellarmine Prep in San Jose. He is the fourth player from Bellarmine to become a Navy captain, and sophomore Phil Windust could become the fifth.

"Bellarmine is the best team year in and year out in northern California," Schofield said. "There's a lot of interest there in the Naval Academy, because we've had a team for 10 years now, and we've been somewhat successful.

"Still, we get a lot of projects, kids with limited experience. We try to get them as many practice games as we can. It would be stretching it to say we recruit a finished product every year; it's more like every second or third year."

The only Maryland players on the squad are Rebel Cobb of Bowie, Jon Jensen of Rockville and Jimmy Marks of Davidsonville. They're graduates of the Navy Juniors age-group team.

Schofield, who played at Pitt in the 1970s, arrived at Navy in 1982 and helped resurrect a water polo program that had been dormant for 32 years.

The sport flourished in the late 1920s and into the '30s and '40s. Five thousand people would jam a small baseball stadium to watch a match in a tank that had been brought in for the occasion and filled with water.

Navy earned its bid to the NCAAs by edging Brown, 7-6, in the semifinals of the Eastern Championships. The Mids lost to Slippery Rock in the final, leaving their record at 20-7 and their season series with Slippery Rock at 1-4.

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