Men’s water polo rose to the high expectations players set for themselves this season.
Tabbed as the preseason co-favorites to win the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo conference championship for the third consecutive season, the No. 14 Colonials hold a near-perfect 7-1 record. GW is following a similar trajectory as last season’s championship team, holding an identical record through eight games.
But head coach Barry King said the wins are “more meaningful” because of the improved level of play throughout the team’s competition in the Eastern region.
“Winning games this year is a little bit more meaningful in terms of the quality, simply because the level of competition in the East has taken a step up,” King said. “Most of the coaches would agree, there are at least five or six programs that I’ve seen so far that this is the best squad they’ve possibly ever had.”
As the reigning conference championship for the past two seasons, the Colonials entered their 2019 campaign with a target on their backs. Junior utility player Andras Levai said the increased competition from opponents is a motivator for the squad.
“It’s been a lot harder since the beginning of the season, but I say it’s a lot more fun that way because there’s a lot more pressure on us because of the last two years,” Levai said. “It really shows character and shows who we are and our experience really comes out in these games.”
GW upset then-No. 12 Princeton in a rematch of last year’s NCAA tournament Sunday. The squad took the match 13–12 without the help of the No. 6 goalscorer in program history, senior utility player Atakan Destici.
Levai said that despite losing Destici, the team this year is deeper than last season’s squad and can pull offense from a number of players.
“There is a difference this year because we have a deeper squad than last year,” Levai said. “I feel like we are on a different level this year than last year, if everyone’s healthy because we’re missing Atakan right now.”
Levai has stepped up in Destici’s absence, leading the team in goals (32), attacks (67), and assists (13). Against Princeton, he took a game-high three assists and netted three goals.
He said shooting efficiency was an area he wanted to improve upon over the summer. Among the players with more than 25 attacks, he ranks third on the team with a .478 attacking percentage, just behind senior centers Jordan Blosser (.519) and Andrew Mavis (.500).
“My shooting has been a lot better this year percentage-wise,” Levai said. “I’ve been practicing a lot over the summer, so that’s one big improvement for me.”
Junior center Gabriele Simonti has also made waves this season. The Orange Coast Community College transfer is in his first season with the Colonials.
Simonti posted a team-high four goals against Princeton and earned a program-record for seven blocks in a single contest against the Tigers. His efforts earned him the MAWPC’s Defensive Player of the Week award, which he said started him on the right foot this season.
“It’s a good contribution that I give to the team, but the win was about the whole squad, it’s not about me,” Simonti said. “It’s a good reward because I know I feel good about the game I played and I feel like this is a good point to start for the rest of the season.”
He added that the team’s biggest challenge this season is maintaining a high level of motivation for the rest of the season.
“The biggest challenge is keeping our minds on that, keeping this responsibility of being the best team,” Simonti said. “They won the past two years, so when a team starts to win you can’t lose motivation because you already won.”
King said the team’s depth will only improve as the season progresses. He added that when several players on the squad can stay out of foul trouble and step up in the fourth quarter, the team will be dangerous.
“To be able to have the full array of people in the fourth-quarter makes us pretty dangerous,” King said.
GW will rematch No. 14 St. Francis and take on No. 12 Harvard for the first time Saturday at the Bucknell Invitational. The Red Flash handed the Colonials their sole loss this season.