On Deck With Djordje Stanic of Pacific Men’s Water Polo

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Djordje Stanic is new this fall to Pacific, but he's an experienced player who has a lot to offer the Tigers. Photo Courtesy: Shumesa Mohsin

With yet another big win—Saturday over USC in Stockton, California—the University of Pacific [UOP] has emerged as the biggest current threat to decades of Pac12 dominance of NCAA men’s water polo. The 12-11 win at Chris Kjeldsen Pool, the Tigers’ second over the Trojans this season and fourth over a top five opponent, marks Head Coach James Graham’s squad—#3 in the nation—as the team to beat in a deep Golden Coast Conference (GCC) line-up that includes #5 UC Santa Barbara, #7 Pepperdine and #8 Long Beach State.

pacificWith established offensive contributors Luis Araya, Engin Ege Colak and Luke Pavillard, goalie Jon Barry doing his part to keep the Tigers winning, and Graham concocting offensive and defensive strategies that frustrate even the most experienced line-ups, Pacific (11-2) has a chance to advance to an NCAA men’s final for the first time in 2013.

[On The Record with Pacific’s James Graham]

As if the Tiger head man didn’t have enough depth, this season he brought in two valuable newcomers to a roster that includes nine upperclassmen. Jermie Cote is a freshman who was a key contributor to the Canadian men’s squad that captured silver in the 2019 Pan American Games. Djordje Stanic—known as Giorgie—was formerly with the Serbian Junior National Team but crossed the Atlantic and spent last season with St. Francis Brooklyn. Stanic was a tremendous addition to the Terrier roster, finishing with 40 goals, 20 assists, and a highlight-reel helicopter goal that is still spoken about in hushed terms among the SFC faithful.

Stanic made the move west to Pacific, where his new team is a legitimate contender to be the first non-Pac12 team to win an NCAA title since Pepperdine in 1997—and he’s sure to be a big part of this push. Swimming World emailed Stanic about his arrival in the States, playing in New York City and his role with a program that’s pushing the envelope of success this season in NCAA polo.

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Stanic (dark cap) in action against Santa Clara. Photo Courtesy: Shumesa Mohsin

– As a member of the Serbian Junior National team you faced American collegians in the FINA Junior World Championships. Did you ever expect that you’d be playing for an American college team?

Yes, I expected to be part of U.S. water polo someday, because I always wanted to come and play here. I remember when we played against the U.S. national team in the FINA Junior World Championship—I was thinking about going to play against those players one day.

– Last year you played for St. Francis Brooklyn in their indoor pool stories below the New York City streets. How was that experience?

New York City is a huge city, full of different nationalities and cultures. It was tough at the beginning, where I had to face new people, a new culture, speak another language and be away from family for the first time. Playing in an indoor pool was not a new experience for me. Ever since I started playing water polo I have been played indoors.

– That Terrier team had a number of good offensive stars, but you stood out because of your size and skill. When did you realize that New York was not the right fit for your talents?

My first games in U.S. were against West Coast teams and one of them was against UOP. Already, I noticed the difference in water polo between West and East. The moment when I realized I wanted to move to West Coast is when I came with St. Francis to California for a tournament. It was the first time for me visiting California. Feeling of California sun and playing water polo in outdoor pool, in October, was an unbelievable experience. Furthermore, I want to continue with water polo after I graduate. And the place where water polo is at the high level, where I can improve my skills, and get better every year is West Coast.

– Last summer you made the move to the West Coast; how difficult a transition was that?

Move to West Coast was a difficult decision for me because of a couple things. The time difference between Serbia and California is 9 hours and sometimes I don’t have time to talk to my family. Moreover, I had to go through everything again, to meet new people, new environment. I was wondering if team will accept me and if I am going to meet expectations.

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Stanic wearing St. Francis navy and crimson. Photo Courtesy: Joseph Gomez

– There’s nothing in the world like playing water polo under the California sun! What has it been like to compete against some of the best collegiate programs in the world?

Being part of the best collegiate program in the world is an amazing experience. Each team has great coaches, a bunch of great players, some of them are playing for the national team, and that makes every game tight and unpredictable.

– You have some accomplished new teammates. How has it been to fit into the winning culture at Pacific?

It was not hard to fit into the team, because they are not just fantastic teammates, but they are great friends. They have helped me a lot to adapt to the way Pacific plays. Having a winning culture and mentality, pushes us to go harder every game and improve and get better as a team. We need to keep this mentality for further players that will be a part of this team in the coming years and keep Pacific on the top.

– The Tigers have been one of the surprises this NCAA seasons. What is it about your new team that has made you so successful?

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Pacific’s Chris Kjeldsen Pool. Photo Courtesy: UOP Athletics

We are all great players and each one of us has different skills. James and Joey [Gullikson] are studying every situation and are trying to use our skills in the best way. We all work hard, we know what our goal is and we are trying to make it. However, any of these would mean nothing if there is no good team atmosphere. Team atmosphere is really important for a team because it is what makes team to work as one and be successful, and we have that.

– This year Pacific will host the NCAA Men’s Championship. How exciting is it for you and your teammates to imagine that you’ll get a chance to play for a national championship in your home pool?

We are so excited about it and we are working hard every day to make it happen. We have the best crowd and it gives us a huge advantage compared to other teams. Hosting NCAA Men’s Championship in front of our own crowd would bring much more energy than if it had been hosted elsewhere and that is what makes it special.

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