Junior goalkeeper Cameron Illes is used to battles.
Each time he takes the pool for the Colonials, he’s their last line of defense in net. So it’s only fitting that that’s how his career at GW began – with a battle.
As a rookie in 2009, Illes found himself competing for playing time with then-sophomore Alex Sotolongo, the other goalkeeper on the roster. But midway through the season his competitor was sidelined by injury and Illes performed so well in net that the slot became his alone.
“As a freshman, it wasn’t easy,” Illes said. “Especially having to compete against someone one year older than me with more experience. Once I got the job though, the biggest thing was just adjusting to how much faster and quicker it was. The main factor was getting more experience because I was able to learn a lot more.”
That forced Illes to make a quick transition to playing as a collegiate goalkeeper, after a successful high school career where he was a 2009 NISCA Second Team All-American selection and a four-time Pennsylvania All-State selection.
Illes played 101 quarters his freshman season alone, the fifth-most in single-season at GW. The experience, he said, has been invaluable.
“Now, I’m a lot wiser than many of the younger goalies,” Illes said. “ I’ve improved my technique and am able to anticipate things that happen.”
Illes doesn’t just exhibit hard focus in the pool – he’s equally focused in the classroom. In his freshman year, he was named to the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Scholar-Athlete Team and the Association for Collegiate Water Polo Coaches All-Academic Team with outstanding status, meaning he earned between a 3.71 to 4.0 GPA.
His sophomore year, Illes helped GW post the fifth-highest GPA in the nation, again earning outstanding academic status from the CWPA and ACWPC. His scholastic record, he said, is indicative of his true focus.
“Academics are definitely my first priority,” Illes said. “I came to GW for the academics, not water polo, even though it is still extremely important to me.”
As a freshman, Illes was a two-time CWPA Southern Division Rookie of the Week. He posted 252 blocks that season, the fourth-most in a single season at GW, and recorded 10-or-more saves in a game 12 times.
Illes wasn’t about to succumb to a sophomore slump in 2010. He recorded the third-highest single season saves total in program history, with 267, and tied the GW single-game record of 19 saves in one game. Illes again posted double-digit games with 10-or-more saves, adding 13. His success, head coach Scott Reed said, is the result of pure, simple hard work.
“He’s a no nonsense guy,” Reed said. “He displays leadership with his presence and tries to lead through example. He’s pretty serious when it comes to game time and he expects 100 percent from everyone on the team. He’s not the most vocal person, but when the team sure listens when he is.”
The importance of being a quiet leader isn’t lost on Illes. He knows that the best way for him to lead is by example, spurring the rest of the Colonials roster to improve with his own outstanding performances. But on a squad with no seniors and just four juniors, Illes is one of its most senior members.
“With only four juniors this year, all of the older guys end up taking a leadership role,” Illes said. “My biggest role comes in the pool, where I’m the QB. As goalie, I’m constantly yelling at guys, telling them where the ball is, what defense we need to set up in, and making sure they know when they did something wrong.”