New St. Francis Brooklyn Men’s Water Polo Coach Exudes Confidence

St. Francis Brooklyn head coach Bora Dimitrov in his playing days. Photo Courtesy: Lisa T. Yen

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

24 year-old Bora Dimitrov, named this summer as St. Francis Brooklyn’s head coach, is the youngest head coach in NCAA varsity men’s water polo, and his youthful optimism is having a positive impact on a Terrier program that last went to the NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament in 2013.

Just two years removed from leading the Terriers in scoring, it’s easy to mistake Dimitrov for one of his players, some of whom are former teammates. But there’s no mistaking the St. Francis squad’s confidence as they seek a return to the upper ranks of East Coast polo programs.

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Over the past two seasons, the Terriers have restocked a roster that by the end of 2015— Dimitrov’s final season in Brooklyn Heights—had been whittled down to 10. With five newcomers and 12 returning players—including last year’s entire starting line-up—Terrier fans have good reason for optimism as their team’s 2017 campaign begins this weekend at the Bruno Classic in Providence, RI.

Experienced Core with Players to Spare

“I’m excited for this season because we have 17 players—two lines—and we’re capable of switching them to increase the dynamics of the game,” Dimitrov said in a recent interview. “Guys are going to have time to rest, go back in, rest. That’s the best thing about this season.”

Returning seven players who logged the majority of minutes last season, the Terriers are as deep and experienced as they’ve been since winning back-to-back NCAA Final Four berths in 2012-13. Headlined by junior captain Nikita Prohkin, a member of the Canadian team that recently finished 10th at the World University Games, St. Francis will expect offensive firepower from juniors Bogdan Kostic, Jonas Veazey, Ognjen Antanaskovic and sophomores Botond Kadar—St. Francis’s leading scorer last year—and Will Lampkin. Veazey, primarily a defender, will see time this season rotating in the hole set position with freshman Zack Hahn.

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Nikita Prohkin. Photo Courtesy: St. Francis Athletics

After junior goalie Nikola Zivkovic was lost early last season to injury, freshman Viktor Klauzer stepped in and played well. St. Francis brought in freshman Finn Dorries from Berlin to provide competition and insurance.

“To go a whole season with only one goalie, it’s impossible,” said the new Terrier coach. “You need two.”

Other newcomers of note are Ricardo Berenguer a Spaniard who will provide speed off the bench, and Tucker Angelo, a red-shirt senior who sat out a year after transferring from Cal Baptist. Returning players expected to step up this season are lefty Tadeu Rodrigues and 6-3 sophomore Luka Budak. All will be counted on to stabilize an offense that during matches would disappear for long stretches.

Building a Winning Mentality

Last season’s 13-14 campaign included a stirring 10-7 home win over eventual Northeast Water Polo Conference (NWPC) champ Harvard followed the next day by a deflating 11-10 triple overtime loss to Brown in a game the Terriers led by three goals late in the match.

Their new coach has diagnosed the problem; not enough killer instinct.

“The potential is there and the guys are talented, but we lack a winning mentality,” Dimitrov said. “I believe you cannot stop a winner from winning because of their attitude. That what we are working on the most.”

In the season’s opening weeks his team will also need a healthy dose of perseverance, as the Terriers play some of the country’s best from both East and West.

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Terrier’s new coach overseeing practice.

They open on September 2 against host and fellow NWPC member Brown, then face Bucknell, the defending Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference champs. The following day the Terriers match up against perennial West Coast powers Stanford and the University of the Pacific. A trip to Princeton a week later will yield a match against UCLA, winner of back-to-back NCAA championships in 2014 and 2015, and another against Bucknell. St. Francis closes out the Princeton Invitational facing the U.S. Naval Academy.

These matches are all difficult, but Dimitrov—who as a Terrier dropped a 15-7 decision to the Bruins in 2014—is particularly taken by UCLA’s mystique.

“Every single day we’re talking about that UCLA game—not to minimize, Stanford, Pacific or any other school—it’s just that they’re UCLA,” he said. “As a player, the biggest challenge was to play against the Bruins because when you come up against them, it’s not going to be what you expect. They play much harder than anybody else.”

Early season matches may look good in the win/loss standings, but Northeast Water Polo Conference play is what matters most. St. Francis opens NWPC play September 27, the first of five straight matches against conference foes Brown, Harvard, Iona, MIT and Princeton.

At that point it will be possible to assess the new coach’s impact; if his optimism is borne out, St. Francis will be in the hunt for its fifth NCAA berth since 2005—one of the best stretches in Eastern history.

“We are changing the culture,” Dimitrov said, “to organize a winning mentality this year.”

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Author: Michael Randazzo

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Michael Randazzo is a freelance contributor at Swimming World focusing on water polo. He covers polo all over the United States for SW and other publications, including the Collegiate Water Polo Association, Skip Shot, The New York Times, Total Water Polo, Water Polo Planet and others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and roots for St. Francis Brooklyn polo.

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