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Rossi: from walk-on to scholarship player at UOP
Joey Rossi enjoyed a successful water polo career at Ceres High School.

The 2006 graduate led the Bulldogs to back-to-back Sac-Joaquin Section playoff berths as a junior and senior, totaling 256 goals. He earned first-team, all-Modesto Metro Conference honors twice.

Impressed by Joey's determination and talent, the head coach of the University of the Pacific men's program offered Rossi a spot on his team.

Joey went from walk-on to scholarship player in less than a year and a half. The 6-foot-tall, 190-pound junior will see an increased role with the Tigers in 2008.

"This year should be even better," said Rossi, who will contribute from the right side. "I should start every game. I'm pretty excited. I want to be known as a guy in the conference you don't want to give space to in the water. I'm getting there."

Joey helped propel UOP's summer premiere league team to a 10th place finish in Southern California. The Tigers played a total of six games at Miramonte and Campolindo high schools. They competed against the likes of USC, Cal, San Diego and Navy.

Rossi rarely ever came out of the water.

"I scored and had a lot of assists," he said. "I was real active. I had a great time. I'm a more well-rounded player now."

Mike Maroney, Joey's coach for the past two years, was replaced in March.

James Graham was named his successor. He spent the past five seasons at Santa Rosa Junior College, where he compiled a 86-50-1 record and guided the Bear Cubs to a third-place finish at the 2007 California State Championships and Big 8 Conference crown. Graham served as an assistant coach for the United States National Youth Team from 2005-07.

"I love how our new coach operates," Rossi said. "It's really great. He runs things so tight. Everything's perfect."

Joey appeared in 30 games as a sophomore for UOP, which ranked No. 13 in the Water Polo Coaches Association Top 20, finished 14-17 overall and placed ninth place in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation standings (1-7).

He tallied eight goals on 24 attempts, seven assists and four steals. He also won eight sprints.

Rossi earned Academic All-MPSF honors as well.

"I kind of did everything," he said. "I used my speed a lot whenever I was needed."

The Tigers went 16-17 overall and placed sixth at the MPSF Tournament during Joey's freshman year.

Rossi totaled one goal on five shots and dished out one assist on the year. He scored in a 23-12 road loss to top-ranked USC in MPSF play.

"A goal in college seems like it's worth so much more than high school," he said. "You have to work so hard for it."

Joey is no stranger to hard work. Never satisfied, Rossi can be found lifting weights, swimming laps and working on his shot on his own time. He's always striving for improvement.

"I've been kicked out of the gym and pool so many times," Rossi said. "It's kind of funny."

Joey's obsession with training has left a lasting impression on some of his younger teammates. They're constantly picking his brain. Rossi welcomes the attention.

"I asked older players to help me when I first got here," he said. "I figured I should do the same. It's kind of humbling."

Joey took time out of his busy schedule to watch several U.S. Olympic men's water polo matches on television earlier this year.

The Americans beat China 8-4 on Aug. 10 and Italy 12-11 on Aug. 12 in Group B play.

"Almost all of the (U.S. players) came out of the conference I play in," Rossi said. "That's pretty neat. It gives me hope I can do it too."

Joey is working towards a bachelor's degree in sports science with a concentration in pedagogy.

He wants to become a strength and conditioning coach or human anatomy teacher.