Water polo stars flanking GW pool as dynamic duo through stellar winning streak

Media Credit: Jordyn Bailer | Assistant Photo Editor

Junior goalkeeper Luca Castorina and graduate student center Pateros said they moved to the U.S. to strike a balance between water polo and a higher degree of education, which they have found at GW.

Water polo’s center and goalkeeper have become a dynamic duo grounding both sides of the Colonials’ pool in the final month of their dominant regular season play.

Split between an impenetrable defensive wall at the goal and a blazing scoring front, junior goalkeeper Luca Castorina and graduate student center Theodoros Pateros have catapulted the Colonials (16-2) to the top of the 11-team Middle Atlantic Water Polo Conference following a 15-game winning streak. Both athletes have earned conference player of the week nods while leading the team in saves and scoring respectively and positioning GW for a threatening postseason run for the MAWPC Championship crown.

Castorina and Pateros, two of the team’s six international student-athletes, said they moved to the United States to strike a balance between water polo and a higher degree of education and that they could not find mutually available at any other institution in Europe. After arriving at GW this fall, Pateros has electrified the GW offense to complement the defensive prowess of Castorina at the net.

Pateros has fired 81 goals over 18 games, while GW the MAWPC gave him player of the week honors for his unrelenting offense in the pool in September. Castorina has compiled 206 saves and 11 steals throughout the season to anchor the Colonials defense, receiving the MAWPC Defensive Player of the Week title in late September after registering 49 saves.

“I chose to play polo during college because I think it’s a great opportunity for us to both play sports and at a high level and also be at a high academic level,” Castorina said in an interview Tuesday. “So for example, I’m studying right now international business, so if I did that in Europe, it would have been way harder because you can either focus on sports or you focus on academics. But the U.S. gives this chance to study and play sports at a high level at the same time.”

Castorina credits much of his defensive game to his time on the U-17 Italian national team in 2019, where he helped the squad win gold at the European Championships. He said the international tournament introduced him to a higher level of competition that advanced his defensive IQ as a goalkeeper to direct the defense in front of him when the opposing offense surges.

“Until now, I’ve been the leader of the defense since I kind of know all the positions where all of the defenders have to be,” Castorina said. “And also, I’m a person that talks a lot during the games, so I kind of try always to help them.”

Even with his stellar performance, Castorina said it was hard to adjust to water polo in the United States with different elements to the game, like referees who are quicker to remove players from the pool for misbehavior than those in other sports. He said he works to maintain his composure during intense matches to avoid potential ejection from the pool.

“It was hard to adapt also to the method of reffing that they use because they’re way more strict than in Europe, and also the refs kicked me out my first year because I yelled at them in Italian,” Castorina said. “I wasn’t really talking to them, I was just mad at the team. And they don’t understand Italian of course, and they just kicked me out.”

Castorina said the graduate student-athletes on the team have helped enhance team chemistry and support the center with each of their own experiences from other athletic programs during their undergraduate careers.

“We should win as a team, our conference and also maybe reach some individual awards so that we can also be remembered on paper,” Castorina said. “And, of course, the energy and the passion that we bring every day to the pool, I really hope that it’s going to always stay there.”

Pateros has emerged as the Colonials’ leading scorer in just his first season at GW with 41 goals – the seventh-highest count in the MAWPC. Before arriving in Foggy Bottom, he played at Long Beach State during his undergraduate years, scoring 93 goals across 75 games and leading the team to two NCAA tournament appearances.

“Obviously, at the end of the day, the only person that is credited for the goals, is the person scoring,” he said. “However, there’s a lot of work that goes behind that. And it’s ultimately my teammates that are putting me in this position, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to score.”

Pateros helped lead the Greek National Team to the Youth World Championship title in 2018 and represented Greece at the Junior European Championships and Mediterranean Cup in 2017.

He said the pace of play of competition at the collegiate level is much faster with predominantly younger competition in the United States in a sport that has gained popularity with college athletes in recent years. Water polo is one of the fastest-growing sports in the U.S. with nationwide competition increasing by 25 percent between 2011 and 2017, according to the most recently available data from USA Water Polo and the National Federation of High School Associations.

“It’s not very similar to what we’re used to in Europe,” Pateros said. “This is a more fast-paced game in the U.S. It’s like more college kids, younger people whereas in Europe, it’s older people. Usually, there’s not so much speed in the game, but there’s other things, like tactics are a lot more in-depth over there.”

He said during his three months at GW, the coaching staff has been accommodating of the team since they understand the challenging course load and balance of responsibility that come with a student-athlete’s lifestyle outside of games and practice.

Pateros said GW’s loss against Fordham Saturday served as a wake-up call for the team that developed an “untouchable” attitude while riding the 15-gam winning streak that overlooked technical mistakes despite higher levels of confidence. He said the team is looking to readjust for a final rematch against Fordham on Nov. 20, where they hope to get their revenge.

The Colonials look to find their winning stride again during a non-conference break where they will face No. 15 San Jose State and No. 16 California Baptist in Santa Clara, California.this weekend in the Julian Fraser Memorial tournament.

“We still have a long way to go,” Pateros said. “Our season is not done until Nov. 20, and this is when we’re going to be tested to see if we’re actually going to meet our goals. Those goals are definitely to win our conference and then there’s a plane game and take our chances against the winner of the other conference and see if we can make it to NCAA’s.”

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