After going 0–8 in conference play last year, the men’s water polo program has turned it around this fall.
An effort spearheaded by the international duo of freshman Atakan Destici and redshirt senior Bogdan Petkovic and strong play by a supporting cast down the stretch now has GW sitting atop the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference standings as the 17th-best team in the country.
Boasting a 7–1 MAWPC record after two wins this past weekend, the team has now won as many games in league play this season as it had in the last five combined.
“Last year was kind of about figuring out what we needed to do – we’ve gotten better,” junior center Pierce Deamer said. “The offseason has been hard – and we’ve put in a lot of work…That’s a process that you just keep repeating, and it gets addicting to a certain point.”
The Colonials have faced a competitive schedule in 2016 – playing 11 games against teams that finished last season in the top 20 of the Collegiate Water Polo Association rankings.
A 9–5 start helped the program capture a spot at No. 14 in the CWPA national rankings Oct. 12 – matching its highest ranking in school history, previously reached in 1997.
Before taking down Johns Hopkins and Navy on Friday and Saturday, respectively, GW (12–9, 7–1 MAWPC) competed on its annual West Coast road trip Oct. 20. The team finished with a 1–4 record, battling tough competition like No. 2 Pacific, No. 9 UC Davis and No. 15 Santa Clara. GW’s lone victory came in a 14–7 win over Fresno Pacific.
As a part of their road trip, the Colonials competed in the Rodeo Invitational, a three-game tournament in Santa Clara, Ca. But the team averaged only 8.3 goals a game, sorely missing the presence of Petkovic, who was forced to miss the trip due to an undisclosed injury.
“We learned how to deal with adversity and how to deal with some of our best players not being there,” head coach Adam Foley said. “With Bogdan not making the trip, we really tried to build depth – a lot of players got crunch time experience in some pressure situations. We didn’t get the wins and losses that we wanted, but ultimately it didn’t impact our seasonal goals. We just try to move forward and try to learn from that stuff.”
Petkovic has led GW offensively all season long with 41 goals and 34 assists on the year. Destici has posted 66 goals and 30 assists.
In his fifth and final year in Foggy Bottom, Petkovic has taken on a leadership role, helping develop a strong supporting team of freshmen and sophomores.
“I redshirted last year, so I took that year to get myself into a leadership role, and we started building up our core last year,” Petkovic said. “This year I’ve just been trying to lead by example and make sure that the guys follow me inside and outside the pool.”
With Destici out for Friday’s matchup against Johns Hopkins because of a red card, GW relied heavily on Petkovic and freshman Andrew Mavis, who netted four goals each en route to a 12–11 victory over the Blue Jays.
The Colonials played in front of a raucous crowd at the Smith Center pool Saturday against Navy, energized by chants from GW water polo alumni visiting for Alumni Weekend. With both Petkovic and Destici back in the pool for the first time in five games, GW’s offense was firing on all cylinders, grabbing a 10–2 lead at halftime.
The chemistry between the pair was palpable during a back-and-forth, two-on-one fast break in the second quarter that drew a standing ovation from the crowd. GW went on to win the match in commanding fashion, 15–7.
The team’s success has been largely due to a late push from their role players, evidenced Saturday when seven different players found the scoresheet. Mavis played especially well, combining for seven goals over the weekend.
“From the stands, Bogdan and I are eye-catching, but the contributions from guys like Deamer, [freshman Jordan] Blosser, Mavis, [sophomore Brett] Else and [sophomore Zach] Slaughter really mean a lot,” Destici said. “They swim, they do a lot of work – sometimes for us, sometimes for the team. Bogdan and I, we just focus on games a lot, and we try to do our best as well.”
Petkovic said he was confident in his team’s ability to compete with any teams they face in the coming weeks, as the season comes to a close and playoffs near.
“We’re in the middle of changing up and building up the program for the better,” Petkovic said. “Our goal is to play in the Southern Conference championship game, and I think we’re on the way there.”
GW closes the regular season with a visit to Johns Hopkins on Nov. 4 and Navy on Nov. 5. The team will then compete in the the 2016 MAWPC Championship, which will be held from Nov. 18-20 in Lewisburg, Pa.