Harvard Water Polo’s Austin Sechrest: Maximum Effort Equals Unparalleled Success for Undefeated Crimson

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Austin Sechrest, Harvard men's polo co-captain, has been a catalyst in the Crimson perfect season. Photo Courtesy: Harvard Athletics

CAMBRIDGE, MA. That the undefeated Harvard men’s water polo team (29-0) is enjoying the best streak in program history — and the greatest season within memory in the East — is the result of a number of factors, but perhaps none bigger than the influence of senior co-captains Charlie Owens and Austin Sechrest on their teammates.

harvard_universitycrimsonTed Minnis, now in his tenth year as head coach for the Crimson men’s and women’s teams, has assembled a talented, deep and experienced squad. With 102 wins, the class of 2020 is the most successful in program history. But, it’s been the leadership of Owens, who last week was named 2019 Northeast Water Polo Conference (NWPC) Player of the Year, and Sechrest, the 2018 MVP, that has set the tone for Harvard’s unparalleled success in 2019.

[Winning is Contagious: Ted Minnis and Charlie Owens of Harvard Men’s Water Polo]

Sechrest in particular embodies an unpretentious attitude that pervades among this group, who boast some of the best polo pedigrees in the country. A tireless worker who beats opponents through both brawn and finesse, the senior from Mission Viejo, California won 2018 MVP honors on the basis of 66 goals and 16 assists, leading the Crimson to a 22-8 record. But last season ended in disappointment, as Ivy rival Princeton upset Harvard in their conference final, denying the team a third-straight NCAA berth.

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A family affair! Alison, Alan, Deann and Austin Sechrest. Photo Courtesy: Alan Sechrest

Not this year; an 8-7 win last weekend over the Tigers in the NWPC final advanced the Crimson to their yet another national championship tournament, the program’s third in four years. Now Harvard has an opportunity to again advance to the quarterfinals when they host Bucknell, winners of the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference, in an NCAA play-in game on Saturday at Blodgett Pool.

[Bucknell, Harvard, Pepperdine, Stanford and UC Davis Qualify for 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament]

Prior to Harvard’s big win over Princeton last weekend, Swimming World spoke with Sechrest and his parents, Alan and Deann, about what has been a season of success and redemption for the Crimson and their captain.

– After a two-week layoff, you and your teammates came out ready to play [in a 15-9 semifinal win over St. Francis Brooklyn].

Austin Sechrest: From Wednesday of last week guys were saying, “Wow, I really wish that we had a game today.” We were just really ready to play — and we came out today and showed that.

We went down a little bit early when they got the first goal but did a good job of bouncing back and fighting, fighting, fighting.

– I’ve been watching your program since 2012. I remember when St. Francis would not only win, they’d beat you decisively. Now it’s Harvard that’s winning big.

Credit to the guys who came before us in this program. I was just talking to a couple of the guys who were seniors when I was a freshman, guys like Joey Colton, Dan Stevens, Vik Wrobel, Noah Harrison.

Those guys taught us when we were freshmen, taught us a lot about how to lead a team, and obviously they were the first ones to get it done. The guys before them had grown the program starting from when Ted took over. Over the last 10 years, Ted’s done a great job.

[Twenty-seven and 0? Wow! But Harvard Men’s Water Polo Has More to Prove]

The guys, everyone’s just passed down their knowledge and we’ve learned a little more every year until we’ve got to this point.

– It’s a one game at a time situation, but you’re undefeated, first time in history that any East Coast team has done what you’ve done.

I’d be lying if I said that we didn’t talk about it, but our focus the entire season was never on… We absolutely would go into every game wanting to win, but our goal that we set at the beginning of the season is to win a conference championship and to be NCAA-competitive.

So, it was awesome we went undefeated. We’re really happy to still be undefeated, but tomorrow [against Princeton] is the game that our season will be defined by the most.

– I’ve talked to Charlie Owens, and I’ve talked to Coach Minnis. What marks your team is that everybody’s in it to win it for the team, not for themselves.

I would agree with that completely. Our entire team, everyone’s selfless. Guys are willing to put the team’s goals ahead of their own. That’s the sign of any great team. And I think that we’ve done a fantastic job of that.

Everyone’s bought-in to doing what we want to do, trying to achieve our team goals over anybody’s individual goals. It’s really cool.

***

At halftime of the St. Francis game, Swimming World spoke with Alan and Deann Sechrest in the stands overlooking MIT’s Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center pool. Regular travelers from their West Coast home to watch Crimson polo, Alan is entirely focused on the match, recording it and speaking animatedly about the action in the pool. Deann is reserved but equally intent on her son and his teammates.

– Austin has been a tough defender for Harvard. Did he come to Cambridge as more of a defensive-minded player?

Alan Sechrest: He came in as an attacker/utility player. But when Bennie Seybold got hurt, somebody had to go to center defense. So, they asked Austin to go to center defense. And he’s happy to do it.

I think he embodies a quote I saw recently: “Don’t try to be the best on your team, try to be the best for your team.” So [he’ll do] whatever they ask him to do.

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Sechrest was a top offensive threat for Capistrano Valley High School. Photo Courtesy: Eric Adams

-What’s impressive about this team is how well they appear to fit into a routine at one of the country’s most prestigious academic institutions.

Ted talks a lot about, it’s not about the next four years, it’s about the next 40 years. Austin didn’t want to be an athlete who also went to school. He wanted to be a student who also played a sport. And he’s not the first person to say that.

But he really believed that and was committed to it. He really wanted to go for the best academic opportunity. And the sport has fit perfectly into his life around academics, around social life, around internship opportunities. There’s so many other things that fit around the sport at Harvard.

You’ve got to find what’s right for you. For him, this was the right mix of things that worked for him.

– Deann, you and your husband regularly see how much abuse your son takes in the water.

Deann Sechrest: It’s hard to watch sometimes but you do anything [to support you children]. He loves the game and we love the game and we’re going to miss it next year.

– This is the best season in East Coast history thanks to your son who is a hard-nose player. It appears that he knows how to give it out as much as he gets.

Deann Sechrest: I think so.

– Who does he get that from?

Alan Sechrest: I think from both [of us]. You have to, you’ve got to be able to stick up for yourself, all players do. So, you don’t want to be overly aggressive, but you don’t want to be overly passive either. You have to be able to hold your own.

– Are we looking at a team that can go West in 2019 for NCAAs?

Deann Sechrest: We’re just taking it one game at a time.

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