East and West Collide at Wagner College

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Joseph Agabs of Fordham; Oscar Nomura of Wagner. Fordham/Wagner Athletics

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

STATEN ISLAND, NY. At first glance, Joseph Agabs and Oscar Nomura—from opposite sides of the country—could not appear more different if they tried. Agabs, whose father immigrated from Azerbaijan, is a graduate of Brooklyn Technical High School who from age 11 played for Y Pro, a Sheepshead Bay-base age group club. Nomura, from Irvine, California, is the epitome of California cool, an accomplished polo player from the state that defines the sport in the U.S. He starred for four years at Irvine High School, located in the heart of SoCal water polo country.

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That they both are sophomores playing water polo in the nation’s largest city is anything but a coincidence. Agabs and Nomura signify the growth of men’s water polo in the Northeast and a match last Wednesday night between Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference rivals—Fordham for Agabs and Wagner for Nomura—resulted in a highly entertaining contest that the host Seahawks pulled out 15-14 in sudden death overtime.

The success enjoyed by Wagner (11-15; 4-4 MAWPC), Bronx-based Fordham (14-8; 4-2 MAWPC) and # 15 St. Francis Brooklyn (13-9; 8-1 Northeast Water Polo Conference) indicate a resurgence in New York City water polo, a development that’s good for the sport locally as well as nationally, where storylines often focus on the dominance of California-based programs.

Watching Anxiously From the Stands

As his son navigated the shallow/deep configuration of the Spiro Center’s pool, Roman Agabs—a one-time polo player who helped start Y Pro—observed carefully, as he has for the majority of Joseph’s matches the past decade. Less than two minutes in the younger Agabs scored for the Rams with a shot that beat Seahawk goalie Cameron Woldt. A stalwart defender who has cracked the starting line-up for head coach Bill Harris, Joseph demonstrated a deft touch on his only goal of the night.

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Spectators @ Spiro. Photo Courtesy: M.Randazzo

“I’m happy he’s playing for Fordham,” said Roman, who with wife Irina and daughter Ruth was close enough to shout instructions to his son. “It’s a very good team; almost like a family.”

Fordham has experienced a break-out season in 2017. Nationally ranked earlier in the season for the first time in three decades, the Rams are powered by a trio of exceptional performers. Massimiliano Mirarchi (74 goals), a graduate student from Italy who shredded the Wagner defense for 6 goals before being rolled from the game in the fourth period, is one of the country’s more prolific goal scorers. Sophomore Jake Miller-Tolt (48), who contributed a hat trick Wednesday night, is second behind the Italian native, while the Ram defense is anchored by senior goalie Alex Jahns of Greenwich, who recorded 14 saves.

That Nomura is even on this coast is a bit of a surprise; a top player in the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF), he took a chance with an untested men’s program in a region that’s a departure from what he knew growing up in polo-mad California. Wagner’s second leading scorer last year in the men’s program’s first year of existence, Nomura has dropped to fifth in the latest Seahawk scoring chart due to the arrival of freshman sensations Jasmin Kolasinac (80 goals) and Teo Dadic (41).

Visiting from California, Nomura’s mother Leslie Severson explained that a change of scenery was best for her son.

“There’s a lot of competition on the West Coast to play,” she explained. “We thought it’d be tough for him at one of the public universities [in California]. This seemed to be a better environment—and a chance to try something entirely new.”

“He enjoys the school and he really likes the players,” she added. “It’s been a good experience for him.”

Foreign Import is a Difference-Maker

Seahawk captain Ciaran Wolohan decided the match with a blazing shot just seconds into sudden death overtime, but Nomura contributed two goals, including the penultimate score of the night: a penalty shot that allowed the Seahawks to draw even at 14 with 42 seconds remaining in the fourth period, setting the stage for a thrilling finish.

Pacific versus Wagner at Brown Water Polo Invitational in Providence, RI., Sept. 2, 2017. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne

Ciaran Wolohan. Photo Courtesy: Stew Milne

Wolohan’s winner, his second tally of the contest, was a bit of redemption. The senior from Manly, Australia had missed a wide-open shot on a break-away in the first overtime period, rattled the cage on a shot in the second but delivered a golden goal eight seconds into sudden-death overtime

That Wolohan—who led the team is scoring in 2016—is with the Seahawks is a testament to Wagner head coach Chris Radmonovich, who in a little more than a year has built a competitive men’s program.

“Ciaran is such a big part of what we do here,” Radmonovich said after the match. “A great leader, a great captain—he’s important to everything we do.”

Perhaps the ultimate thrill was enjoyed by parents who traveled both near and far to watch the East’s particular version of the sport: shallow/deep pools and heart-stopping contests between rivals.

“It was very exciting to watch the game tonight,” Leslie Severson said. “I was really happy to be here tonight when they finally turned around their losing streak and beat Fordham, the big crosstown rival.”

Roman Agabs was philosophical about the Ram’s loss.

“Today they lost but that’s the sport,” he said. “It’s water polo and anything can happen.”