Alumni try to recapture that loving feeling

    “”I would say that I was painfully average.””

    Kenrick Leung

    So spoke UCSD alumnus Greg Buchanan, class of 1983, in describing his water polo skill — or lack thereof. Yet Buchanan was there for the beginning of the glory days of UCSD water polo and acknowledged that it was exciting to help “”put UCSD water polo on the map.””

    That excitement persists, despite the nearly 20 years that separate Buchanan’s last season playing Triton water polo from his current job working for the city of San Diego in boating safety for Mission Bay.

    Buchanan still plays. He will be in UCSD waters this weekend when nearly 400 alumni athletes will return to our misty mesa for UCSD’s 2001 homecoming.

    Saturday will find UCSD teeming with visitors — for Open House, certainly, but also for a daylong celebration of the competitors that have made our athletics program what it is today.

    Associate Athletics Director Ken Grosse explained that his department has brought alumni together for a day of sport every fall for the last seven years. However, the last three homecomings have been organized with the UCSD Alumni Association to expand this all-campus event into a get-together of grand proportions.

    Ten alumni games are scheduled for Saturday morning. But the real draw is more than the thrill of victory; it’s the fun of seeing old friends and teammates.

    “”There’s a lot of camaraderie and a lot of friendships that have gone on for years, especially in the athletics department,”” said Tammy Traudt of the Alumni Office.

    As the office’s program coordinator, Traudt puts together the events that bring alumni back. She said an “”enormous number”” of alumni athletes from every age group come to homecoming to participate in their respective sports.

    Grosse feels such reunions are important because they foster an “”emotional commitment to the university.””

    And there’s the beer garden, which alumna Carol Criswell laughingly cited as something she’s looking forward to.

    Criswell knows a little about the “”family”” of UCSD athletics. She played volleyball from 1984 to 1987, a period that encompassed the three years women’s volleyball won national titles. Her husband was also a Triton volleyball player. Now they bring their three children to UCSD games and events regularly.

    “”The kids love to go,”” she said. “”[Homecoming] is a great family day, actually. So many of our friends will be there.””

    Indeed, Criswell’s 10 closest friends are either people from volleyball or people she met through teammates. She said she still runs into people who recognize her from UCSD, and that it’s “”great to reconnect”” with her friends from the good old days.

    While she admitted that some parts of college were hard for her, Criswell’s descriptions of the sporting atmosphere while she was a student are warm.

    She played before RIMAC and the Price Center were built, when games were held in the Main Gym. Events held there attracted a lot of attention because the Student Center was the core of student life.

    “”Everyone hung out at the Hump,”” she said, “”and we would fill the old gym [at games].””

    These memories have motivated her to stay involved with UCSD athletics.

    “”It’s important to come back and support what was really good to us, and to give back,”” Criswell said.

    Buchanan’s experience is similar. He too “”gives back”” to the program through Sunset Water Polo, which organizes activities to help motivate current Triton polo players. Besides coming to games, the alumni involved in Sunset also raise funds, and threw a surprise barbecue for the team after Hell Week this year.

    He looks back fondly on his term as a Triton, calling it “”a significant bonding experience.”” Teammates studied and partied together, and were movers and shakers on campus when UCSD was still “”pretty sleepy.””

    He spoke reverently of former water polo coach and current Aquatics Program Director Denny Harper.

    “”I got to see him from the first time he walked in the door,”” Buchanan said.

    Buchanan credits Harper with ushering in a new era of water polo for UCSD.

    “”We didn’t play high-caliber teams until Denny,”” he said. “”That got people to recognize that UCSD was a great water polo team.””

    The team’s talent and close friendships have led its members to keep playing and keep in touch. Reunions like homecoming are nothing new to Buchanan, who claimed, “”Water polo guys have been having alumni games forever.””

    Up to 40 former Tritons are expected to participate in Saturday’s 11 a.m. face-off with the current UCSD team.

    But can the older players hold their own against the young ones?

    “”No way,”” Buchanan said flatly. “”The college guys are in top physical shape — they’re faster and stronger [than the alumni].””

    He went on to joke, “”We’ll get some ref to make sure we get the calls so we feel good about ourselves.””

    After all, it’s not about competition, but “”an opportunity to get in and hang out with [the collegiate players],”” according to Buchanan.

    Though he jokes about his own athletic talent, there’s no question that sport was a major part of Buchanan’s student experience.

    “”UCSD was great and everything,but water polo was what made it memorable,”” he said.

    Dawn Lee was emphatic when asked what role her time spent on the women’s soccer team played in her college experience.

    “”It was all my experience,”” Lee said.

    Lee teaches physical education and health at University of San Diego High School, and she has attended homecoming every year since she graduated in 1994.

    Lee feels that homecoming has been “”getting better and better every year”” as the alumni pool gets bigger and more people come back.

    “”It’s great to meet the girls who are younger and let them see that we’re still involved, and to let them know how we’re all still friends,”” Lee said.

    This group of friends is involved through athletics — they still kick the ball around in a formal adult league — as well as important events of another sort.

    “”We go to each others’ weddings,”” she explained.

    Lee said 30 of her UCSD soccer friends will be involved in Saturday’s matchup against tough San Bernardino.

    Her memories of UCSD are dominated by athletic events and friendships with teammates.

    “”That was what was really neat when I was there,”” Lee said. “”You’re out one for all and everyone’s out there supporting each other.””

    She looks forward to homecoming for a similar reason: She loves that “”all the sports are intermingling”” at the social events and in the stands.

    Grosse agrees.

    “”It’s important for athletes to become a community,”” he said. “”It builds family. It’s not just a sense of teams but of a program. Athletes get a sense that they’re part of something that came before and will go on after.””

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