UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK / ROBYN NORWOOD : Field Strong for Water Polo Event

The last two NCAA championship trophies for water polo have ended up in Berkeley.

But California's attempt to win its third in a row will face a flurry of early challenges this weekend at the UC Irvine water polo tournament, with 11 of the nation's top 13 teams competing.

Cal is still ranked No. 1, but the Golden Bears have lost Chris Humbert, a senior on last year's team who was a two-time NCAA player of the year and a member of the Olympic team.

"I don't think they're going to go through the season and not get beaten a few times this year. There's more equality," UC Irvine Coach Ted Newland said.

Though most of the action is at Corona del Mar High School--including the championship game at 2:40 p.m. Sunday--some early-morning matches will be played at Heritage Park in Irvine.

UC Irvine, ranked third in the nation behind Cal and Stanford, opens the tournament against No. 5 UCLA at 7 a.m. Friday at Heritage Park.

As always, there will be a strong Orange County presence. The rosters of the 14 teams include 45 players from county high schools or community colleges. There will also be a lot of blue and yellow--there are six UC schools in the tournament.

Irvine's top returning player is senior Steve Gill, who was a first-team All-American last season. During the past two seasons, Gill has scored 151 goals, including 74 last year.

Another senior, Pablo Yrizar, was a second-team All-American last season after scoring 59 goals.

The top new player is Mark Stevenson, who was a two-time community college All-American at Citrus College. Stevenson, 23, went on a two-year religious mission before completing his community college career.

A.D. search: The names of three to five finalists who will be interviewed for the athletic director's job are expected to be announced after a meeting of the nine-member search committee Thursday.

A final recommendation of two to four candidates is to be made to Horace Mitchell, the vice chancellor for student affairs, later this month.

The position became open after Tom Ford resigned in July to become assistant executive director of the National Assn. of Basketball Coaches.

Key issue: One of four qualifications for the new athletic director is "the ability to secure private support for athletics in the range of $500,000 to $1 million annually."

Mike Gerakos, who lost his job as baseball coach when Irvine dropped the sport last spring, will interview Friday for the head coaching job at Washington.

Gerakos' interest in a coaching position marks a change in the attitude he had shortly after his program was discontinued. At that point, he planned to pursue work in another field. "I had to catch my breath again after getting hit in the stomach," Gerakos said. "Baseball's in my blood. I'll stay in the sport somehow."

The Washington job came open after longtime Coach Bob McDonald left to become an assistant at the U.S. Naval Academy, with an understanding that he eventually will take over as head coach.

"It's the only coaching position open I know of," said Gerakos, who has a career record of 312-338-8. "I'm taking it one day at a time right now. Hopefully, something will work out up there."

After missing the season opener because of incomplete eligibility paperwork, the men's cross-country team will compete in the Nike/UCI Invitational Saturday at Irvine Park in Orange.

The men's team is still recovering after being reinstated in August. The program had been scheduled for discontinuation for financial reasons.

The Irvine women--much more prepared for the season--will face strong competition in the meet, with last year's NCAA second-place finisher (Arkansas) and third-place finisher (Northern Arizona) in the field.

Jenny Tanaka became the career leader in assists for the women's soccer program last week. That's good news and bad news. The bad? The record is only 11. The good? Tanaka is a sophomore.

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