by Roger Wistar
The boys water polo team hopes this season under new leadership to leverage its strong core of returning swimmers to create a new culture that empowers the players in the water.
"This year requires everyone's contribution," said new head coach John McBratney, who added that he hoped that each swimmer would feel confident to read the situation and make decisions on offense that would put the team in the best chance to score goals.
"They can see and know the game better in the pool than we can from above," said McBratney. "I can give them strategy, but ultimately I want them to be the ones who make those final decisions."
McBratney, who also took over the girls program last spring, said that the strategy for the Bearcats this fall will lean on creating high-percentage passes and shots. Instead of depending on a few dominant swimmers, the team will need to work together as a unit to create chances.
Half of the 22 players on the roster are new this season, and so the early emphasis has been on conditioning work to build the team's fitness, said McBratney. "If we can keep up from a cardio point, we can keep up with the other teams," he said.
Captain Alejandro Sarmiento '18, a four-year varsity player, agreed. "Many of the New England water polo teams are fast, so it's important that we get back on defense as quickly as possible when the possession switches," he said.
Another key to the team being able to generate stops is minimizing the fouls that opponents can draw. Fouls in water polo can generate free opportunities for shooters, and McBratney said the team is focusing on applying pressure without conceding the whistle.
Behind the defense, one of the questions for the squad is how to replace Egor Cherenkov '17, who earned second-team All-Founders League last year. Fortunately for the Bearcats, another Cherenkov has arrived in Lakeville, and Egor's brother Alex should get an opportunity between the pipes this season.
Maintaining a positive team culture, particularly with the integration of many new players, will also be key to the team's success and is one of Sarmiento's main objectives. "We win as a team and we lose as a team," he said. "We're trying to play for each other, not for ourselves."