On Deck With Stanford Water Polo’s Ben Hallock

Stanford, CA; December 2, 2018; Men's Water Polo, Stanford vs USC.
Stanford's Ben Hallock in action during the 2018 NCAA Men's Water Polo Final. Photo Courtesy: Hector Garcia-Molina/Stanford Athletics
Ben Hallock is up for this year’s Peter J. Cutino Award for the best collegiate water polo player along with Cal Berkeley attacker Johnny Hooper and UCLA goalie Alex Wolf, two players who he has long played with and against throughout his water polo career.

[On Deck With UCLA Water Polo’s Alex Wolf]

Swimming World spoke with Hallock about his water polo career starting at Los Angeles Water Polo Club and Harvard-Westlake School under coach Brian Flacks and through his redshirt sophomore year at Stanford University while representing USA at International competitions.

– What are some of your best memories of playing at Harvard-Westlake and Stanford?

My best memory in high school was winning the CIF Division I title in my junior year in 2014. It was on my 17th birthday and I was playing with guys who I had been playing with since I was 10-11 years old. It was a full culmination of all those years playing together under Brian Flacks who had been coaching us at LA Water Polo Club since we were in the 10U division.
My best memory at Stanford was this season because we are a special group of friends. Although the season did not turn out the way we wanted, people also did not expect much from us. The season turned out to be a ton of fun without any personality issues that can hurt teams. We all get along and it was special.

– You played at many JO finals, CIF Division I championships, NCAA title games and at the 2016 Olympics. How does the pressure differ at each level?

Once the game starts, you are going up and down—and I’m not really aware of what’s happening outside the game.  

A thunder strike from Hallock blows past Trojans. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

Of course, before the games, the pressure at different levels is different. You can really feel the energy at JO’s or CIF or at big college games. This year, with the NCAA championships held at Stanford, I just came down from my dorm.   

But the Olympics are different. It’s something that I have only experienced in Rio. The Olympic energy is explosive. The competitiveness is something at a whole other level. I am nervous before the games start – at the Olympics or NCAAs – right up to the first whistle. It’s natural to be nervous, but when the game starts, you are focused on the game itself and you just see your teammates and the other players in the water.

– You rarely lose your cool and play with a profound sense of patience despite constantly being pounded upon at set. How often do you feel a painful elbow to the gut or get punched or kicked at set? 

I feel something every time we are on offense. There are always guys pounding on me and testing my limits. At the national level with the national team, players will definitely challenge you. At the international level, everyone is big. I am 240 lbs, which is big in college, but at the international level, there are guys bigger than that.
When you first play them, they don’t care who you are. They test you by pushing how aggressive they will be on defense. Fortunately, half the game below the water so you can give back what you receive. 

– You do not appear to get up high in the water like your Harvard-Westlake teammate Johnny Hooper, but on the other hand, you rarely sink in the water. How do you maintain your position so well on top of the water while you are being defended?  Is there anything that you do that other water polo players do not do?

It is not something that I think about, but just something that I have been working on ever since I started water polo. I weigh 240 lbs, so I try to be rock solid in the water, [and] just try to maintain my position.

– What are some non-water polo training do you regularly or occasionally do?  

When we were at Harvard-Westlake, we would do a lot of reps – like 20 to 30 – at a fast pace so we are building strength and getting a good aerobic workout. It is not exactly like a CrossFit workout with dead lifts and stuff, but we try to build strength with a high repetition workout. I tried running like 2-3 miles a day back when I first started the national team, but running wasn’t really providing the benefits that I need. I can maintain a good aerobic base with the workouts I learned earlier at Harvard-Westlake with Brian (Flacks).

– You’ve obviously been a leader on your club teams and at Stanford. Would you describe yourself as more of a vocal leader or a lead-by-example player? 

I think players respond in different ways. So in order to be a complete leader, you need to be both types. To capture both groups of players, sometimes you have to be vocal and others respond to leading by example. I know that you don’t overdo it, either way, to be a good leader.

– Your father played football at USC. Did you ever think about becoming a Trojan?

Yes, i thought about going to every other school at some time. Every school offers something different. My father played football and my mother also went to USC. So we went to USC football games since I was a kid. Sometimes on Saturday, my father calls and tells me about a USC football game.
Of course, I remind him that I go to Stanford now.
Stanford, CA; October 6, 2018; Men's Water Polo, Stanford vs USC.

Hallock lining up a shot over USC’s Sam Slobodian. Photo Courtesy: Hector Garcia-Molina

– You have been dominant at every level of water polo – club and collegiate – and then became a high school Olympian. What adjustments – physical and mental – did you have to make to playing high school teams versus playing at the Olympic level? 

There are two very different games at the college level and national team level. I am a big guy in college, but at national team games, I am playing against guys who are 260 to 270 lbs. They are big and I have to make a physical adjustment from the college game. I am trying to gain weight, trying to get bigger and stronger, but not overdoing it.
I have to maintain a healthy balance between strength and stamina. The rules are different between college and international so that is another adjustment.

– What have you learned from your years of international play? Have you learned tricks or the subtleties of the game?

I played my first international tournament at Corona del Mar in 2015. It was a qualification tournament for the 2015 World Championships. I’ve learned a lot from there to now. Being around and playing against so many great players, you learn a lot and how to handle what they throw at you. I also watch a lot of film. We use a program called Huddle that I can access anywhere. When I have time, I watch film and continue to study the game. You have to be a student of the game.

– Team Japan presents an interesting challenge to Team USA. What are your thoughts competing against an undersized team like Japan?

The Japanese have presented a challenge, but with changes to the rules, it will be interesting to see how they adjust. They can punish you with their speed and counterattacks, but now the rules favor inside water. They are fast, but under the new rules, there will be a very different style of water polo that the Japanese currently play so we can take advantage of the new rules. There are always rules and players that you have to adjust to.

– You have played against all of your Team USA teammates during your age group and college careers. But now you are on the same team. What are things that may have surprised you about their personalities or play?

It is fun to play with all of them. I have played with Johnny for a long time when we first started at LA Water Polo Club. In high school, we were successful, but then I didn’t play with him for a few years while he was at Cal. When we get together, we always have a day to adjust to each other, but then it is great to be together once again. 

– If you give advice to a freshman in high school who wants to play in college, what do you tell them?

I would tell them to watch as many games as you can at a level that is above you. I remember Brian used to give me these CDs with different pro games on them when I was in 7th and 8th grade. I would repeatedly watch them over and over. So kids who want to play at a higher level should watch players at the high level, continuing to learn about the game.  
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