Club Spotlight: Men’s Water Polo

The St. Mary’s Water Polo team treaded their way to four solid performances to open the 2010-2011 season. Hosting a two-day tournament that included fellow Atlantic Division members, the team faced opponents Loyola University, University of Maryland – College Park, James Madison University, and Georgetown University in the home waters of the Michael P. O’Brien Athletics and Recreation Center.

The first match of their first tournament of the year pitted the team against Loyola. After a hard-fought match, the men found themselves trailing 5-15. Later the same day, the men competed in a tough match against Georgetown. Despite a stellar performance by goalkeeper Chris Sakowski and the skillful backhanded shots of Gabe Grace, the Seahawks were defeated 8-20.

The following morning, the ‘Hawks faced their rivals of University of Maryland and battled to a 13-17 loss. And in the final match of the tournament, the exhausted Seahawks were defeated 7-18 by James Madison.

Offensively, water polo strategy is very similar to basketball. Teams look to work the ball inside to their “hole man” for easy shots. This weekend, though, teams doubled early against the ‘Hawks.

“When teams double-team the hole, its hard to force it in there,” says senior Matt Cross. The ‘Hawks also put up a tough fight on the defensive end, having three players ejected from matches for their intense, physical play. Overall though, according to senior Alex Michelesen, “Other than the Georgetown match, the tournament was very good. We played extremely well.”

Men’s water polo is a very young program at the College. After beginning eight years ago, the Water Polo program’s numbers began to dwindle in 2004 and 2005. But in the fall of 2006, a group of 8 freshmen, Ben Garbart, Cross, Alex Michelesen, Chris Sakowski, Grace, Kalvin Gray, and Niko Pinto, revitalized the program.

During their tenure at St. Mary’s they have defeated Division I program Maryland and even qualified for the Division III National Championships in 2009.

This year, the group of eight seniors looks to continue and advance to the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Division III championships for the second consecutive year. With a group of strong young players that include sophomore Darren Leu and first-year Hattie Schiavone, a member of the women’s swimming team, they look to continue their success.

The Water Polo Club “Is always looking for new members.” This is mostly because the biggest difference and largest obstacle in their way is the number of athletes in the pool. “The better teams just have more members,” says senior Ben Garbart, “And this year we have almost as many as they do.”

The team will continue its campaign in a week at James Madison, where they will look to improve their standing against other teams in the Atlantic Division.

Water Polo Team Wraps Up with Hopes for Future

“Most people don’t even know we have a polo team,” says Day. (Photo submitted by Chris Sauter)
“Most people don’t even know we have a polo team,” says Day. (Photo submitted by Chris Sauter)

The St. Mary’s Water polo team recently completed their fall league, and moving on into the rest of the year, they hope to show their talents by garnering campus-wide awareness and attracting more athletes. “This year our team really made great progress. We joined the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) and competed in a month long, regional tournament with teams from both Maryland and Virginia,” says Senior player Chris Sauter.

The league consisted of three trips to University of Maryland, College Park, University of Virginia and James Madison University, from which the team earned a 9th seed going into the playoff tournament.

Sophomore Kalvin Day describes, “Unfortunately we had to forfeit every one of our playoff games because not enough players could go to the tournament.  We probably would have come in 8 or 9th had the team been able to come.”  The team posted forfeits against 4th seed UVA, 10th seed Loyola, and 11th seed Richmond.

But they are not dwelling on the past.  Moving into the spring, the athletes have many goals for themselves.  Day explains, “This year we plan on putting together some home scrimmages against College Park and Loyola, doing work at the Millersville University Invitational in the spring and hopefully hosting a home tourney in the spring as well.”

Day is also a member of the swim team and balances the two schedules throughout the year.  “It’s a lot of time and swimming is a varsity sport so it has to be the top priority,” he notes.  Many swimmers choose to play water polo as well to use their aquatic endurance in other ways and to stay in the water.  “Being a swimmer helps a lot with endurance during the games,” Day adds.

However, the team is not limited to those on the swim team, and many enjoy the sport for its fun atmosphere, while competing against top tier colleges and universities at the same time.  “The team is a great group of guys and the trips themselves are as fun as the games we compete in,” says Day. “With a lot of younger players, I am hopeful that the team will continue after I graduate. As always, our team focuses on the fundamentals of the game and caters to all (orno) skill levels,” Sauter added.

Moving forward, the water polo team hopes to become a more recognized club sport on the St. Mary’s campus, such as rugby and the St. Mary’s Ultimate team.  Day explains, “In the future I hope to see water polo become a full time club sport that has the respect of the campus.  Most people don’t even know we have a water polo team or how much fun water polo is.”