2019 Swimming World Men’s Water Polo Previews: Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference-East

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Can George Washington make it a MAWPC Three-peat? Not if Bucknell can help it. Photo Courtesy: Gloria Kushel

For the past two years, Bucknell has boasted the East’s best player but that has not translated into titles. In 2017 the Bison were upset by upstart Wagner, and in 2018 they dropped the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference East (MAWPC) title match in overtime when George Washington scored a miracle goal with no time remaining—then in overtime snatched an NCAA berth in front of stunned Bucknell fans.

[In Thrilling Finish to Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Final, George Washington Tops Bucknell in OT]

With the return to respectability of Navy, the Explorers of La Salle finding their way, Fordham again being consistent thanks to deft recruiting, and coaching changes at both Johns Hopkins and Wagner, the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference will be dynamic in 2019. But, with Rade Joksimovic—three-time MAWPC East Region Player of the Year—having one final season in Lewisburg, it’s hard to expect that Bucknell won’t be in the Mid-Atlantic final again.

[Five Questions for Max Schlegel, Johns Hopkins Men’s Water Polo Coach]

Question is, which of a range of MAWPC contenders will find their way to the Bison’s Kinney Natorium in November with a title on the line and an NCAA berth in play?

Editor’s Note: Rankings in parentheses indicate results of the 2019 Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Preseason Poll

BucknellOver his career Joksimovic has been the best polo player in Bison history not named Scott Schulte. With three-straight 100+ goal seasons—including 128 last year—there’s no question that, barring injury, his final season at Bucknell (#16T) will be special. But the key player for Head Coach Jack McBride’s squad may be sophomore Jack Otto, who stood on his head in last year’s Mid-Atlantic final, making 19 saves in overtime to claim Rookie of the Tournament honors.

To dethrone George Washington, the two-time champs, the Bison will need than a one-two punch provided by Joksimovic and Otto. For that they’ve got Cooper Dolan (43 goals, 38 assists), Jack Lewis (40 goals, 25 assists), Logan Schofield (46 goals) returning for an offense that racked up 418 goals last season. Freshman Colby Paine of St. Ignatius College Prep will certainly help the Bison offense; he’s one of six freshman McBride brought in, including Andu Vlasceanu, an attacker from Romania, and Adrien Touzot, a goalie from Lebanon.

A significant loss to graduation is Marko Djordjevic, Joksimovic’s wingman and the Bison’s second-leading scorer (61 goals, 61 assists).

Given the disappointment of the last two years, it seems likely that the Bison—and Rade, their all-world attacker—will be on a mission to win in 2019, especially as they’ll host this year’s MAWPC tournament.

Key Match-Up: George Washington Sunday, November 4, Lewisburg, PA

GWBack-to-back comeback wins against Bucknell and Princeton in 2018 earned George Washington (#15) its first-ever NCAA quarterfinal trip. The Colonials return leading scorer Atakan Destici (85 goals); now a senior, Destici saved his team’s season with a buzzer-beating goal in the Mid-Atlantic final to pull GW into a tie and set the stage for a thrilling overtime win. Also returning are Andrew Mavis (83 goals) and Andras Levai (72 goals). This trio was the offensive engine that powered Head Coach Barry King’s squad to back-to-back Mid-Atlantic titles, and they will be supplemented by three freshmen, most notably Chris Lee of San Diego polo power The Bishop’s School.

Departures include Jack Kerwin (53 goals)—a reliable offensive option for the Colonials—and starting goalie Austin Pyrch (302 saves). Stepping into the Colonial cage is Matt Taylor (99 saves in limited duty). Taylor is the only goalie currently listed on King’s roster; if GW has an Achilles heel it’s here; they certainly have enough experience to get to a fourth-straight Mid-Atlantic final.

Key Match-Up: Princeton, Sunday, September 15, Princeton, NJ

navy

Luis Nicolao has been a success wherever he’s gone, and finishing 15-14 last year with a Navy (#RV) squad that the year before was an embarrassing 1-9 in conference play in 2017 is a testament to his instanct impact on the Middies. In Year Two of Nicolao’s return to Annapolis—he starred for Navy in the early 90’s under legendary coach Mike Schofield—it’s all about the recruits, and he and assistant coach Tom Popp have apparently remade their line-up, bringing in 15 freshmen.

[On The Record with Tom Popp of Navy Water Polo]

Leading the parade of recruits from California are defender Peter Hillen from Miramonte High School, Kyle Faison of Dos Pueblos, Merle Richman of The Bishop School and Will Clark of Laguna Beach.

It’s not all about rookies or Californians for Navy; Isaac Salinas (54 goals, 23 assists)—2019 MAWPC-East Rookie of the Year hails from nearby Pennsylvania. He returns for his sophomore campaign, as does junior Bobby Lee (team-high 57 goals). In nets, senior Ronan Williams (197 saves) returns, but Nicolao has three other goalies to choose from, including freshman Jonas Greer.

Navy will make huge strides in 2019, and if their vaunted crop of freshmen step up, they will be a tough out in the 2019 MAWPC tournament.

Key Match-Up: Bucknell, Saturday, October 12, Annapolis, MD

fordhamJake Miller-Tolt returns for his final season at Fordham, and a number of program records are within reach including all-time leading scorer. With 237 goals, he’s on track to supplant Ram Hall of Famer Ned Kelly (Class of 1974) who anchored one of the greatest periods in Ram water polo.

Head Coach Bill Harris will be happy if Miller-Tolt is able to seamlessly mesh with Oscar Nomura. The high-profile transfer from Wagner generated 112 goals over three seasons playing in Staten Island. Returning to the Rams in 2019: Phillip Wang (40 goals, 36 assists); super freshman Dimitris Koukias (39 goals), now a sophomore, and Bailey O’Mara, the gigantic (6-8) goalie who as a freshman played his way into the starting spot.

Harris has brought in eight freshmen, including goalkeeper Aldo Ordoñez from Austin, Texas, and a familiar name to fans of Fordham and Iona water polo: Stephen Judge, whose uncle Chris is one of the most storied players in the history of Eastern water polo—and whose grandfather Francis was perhaps the most distinguished player in the long history of the sport at Fordham. Of course, the Judge story also includes Iona water polo, where Stephen’s father Ray played—and is a member of the Iona Hall of Fame—and where one of the East’s great rivalries continues, with the two teams meeting on Saturday, September 7th, at the Navy Invitational.

Harris will need all the help his newcomers can muster to replace the 100+ goals lost from the graduation of George Maltby (20), Magnus Sims (44) and Ian Watson (38)—and overtake New York City rival Wagner, which beat the Rams last year for third place in the MAWPC

Key Match-Up: Wagner, Wednesday, October 23, Fordham, NY

wagnerThe biggest coaching change in the East was Chris Radmonovic’s decision last month to step away from coaching Wagner after nine seasons, including three with the Seahawk men. This is a huge blow to an up and coming program, but a stop-gap solution was immediately apparent: Ciaran Wolohan, the mainstay of the Seahawks their first two years the pool, has been elevated from an assistant coach last season to head man this year.

[Radmonovich Steps Down After Nine Superb Years Leading Wagner Water Polo]

But a coaching change is not the only transition for the Seahawks this coming season; there has been an exodus of players from Staten Island. Two of the program’s top scorers have transferred out; Jasmin Kolasinac, with a program-best 203 goals over his two years in Staten Island has moved on to Cal. Nomura, who totaled 112 goals in his three seasons with Wagner, has moved to MAWPC rival Fordham. Key losses to graduation are starting goalie Cameron Woldt (297 saves) who started all 32 matches for the Seahawks last year, and Teo Dadic (49 goals, team-high 37 assists). Jack Leighton, who last year delivered 33 goals and 31 assists, good for 64 points, is not on the roster.

In total ten players from the 2018 roster—including six with eligibility remaining—have moved on.

Returning to help the Seahawks ideally improve on a 2018 campaign that saw them finish 18-14, good for third place last year in the conference, are Vuk Bulajic (47 goals, 20 assists), Lachlan Trabinger (31 gials, 13 assists) and Matt Miller (20 goals). Wolohan will need great production out of a crop of nine freshmen—most notably Karl Lovett of San Ramon High School and Jackson Williams out of Huntington beach—along with Nicolas Butelet, a junior college transfer from West Valley College.

Key Match-Up: Navy, Saturday, November 9, Annapolis, MD

lasalle-logoIt would be rash to assume that in a single year La Salle could go from not-so-lovable losers to contenders for a MAWPC title; that’s just how lost the Explorers where until August of 2018, when Tom Hyham took the reins of the men’s and women’s program. But, he’s effected a complete transformation of the college’s water polo culture and—once they end a 15-match losing streak dating to last season—the Explorers are sure to be thorn in everyone’s side in 2019.

Senior Jeff Brady—the team’s leading scorer in 2017 with 39 goals—will return after being absent last season due to injuries. Also returning from injury is center Luke Waechter. They will team with Daniel Domotor (39 goals) Cole Strohson (37 goals), Ash Lyne (29 goals) and Joey DeFusco (26 goals) to create scoring depth.

It’s in goal that the Explorers face their biggest challenge. Returning junior Cameron Schiable (90 saves) had a paltry 32% save rate. He will be pushed by freshman Adriano Zunino, of Peru, who missed out on representing his country at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima.

[On The Record with Augusto Otero, Captain, Peruvian Men’s Water Polo Team]

No matter what the results in 2019, La Salle is sure to improve on last season’s 2-23 finish, and may surprise some of its MAWPC rivals.

Key Match Up: Austin College, Saturday, September 7, Annapolis, MD.

johns-hopkinsLast year, Johns Hopkins was beset by turmoil, as the health issues of long-time coach Ted Bresnahan took attention away from a program that was in need of a substantial rebuild. With the elevation of Max Schlegel to the top spot after two years serving under Bresnahan, that rebuilding has begun; luckily for Hopkins fans, Finn Banks (42 goals, 33 assists); Emerson Sullivan (team-leading 45 goals) Nico Ivanov (34 goals, 23 assists) and Andreas Katsis (34 goals) all return on offense, while goalie Max Fleming—a junior who competed for the Blue Jays as a wrestler—will take over netminding duties under the tutelage of John Wilson, former Hopkins great.

[Ted Bresnahan, Hopkins Water Polo Coach, Steps Down after 27 Years]

Schlegel will have to contend with critical losses to graduation: goalie Spenser White (26 starts; 260 saves) and Giorgio Cico (21 goals, 56 assists), who helped make the Blue Jay offense go. Additions are Kamran Eslami of Mission Viejo, CA, and Chris Freese of Bellevue, WA.

One of the team’s biggest challenges will be overcoming a La Salle program that accounted for a third of Hopkins’ wins in 2018—and will be vastly improved from years past. It will make for a challenging transition for Schlegel and Wilson, his new assistant coach, but the quality of Hopkin polo has been consistent for decades, and the Blue Jays have the dual focus of MAWPC play as well as the first-ever NCAA DIII national championship to keep them sharp.

Key Match-Up: La Salle, Sunday, September 29, Philadelphia, PA

1 comment

  1. avatar
    Brett Scanlon

    Will you be doing a preview of the west division also?