Water polo makes Nationals

By Zak Morrow

If you haven’t seen the grabbing posters, you haven’t had your eyes open. If you haven’t made your way over to the natatorium, you haven’t been following the excitement. For most of the semester, fifteen individuals have been keeping their eyes open, above and below water. Fifteen men have been waking up for 6:30 AM practices at the natatorium. They are the Macalester men’s club water polo team, and their season recently reached its high point at the Heartland Divisional Tournament.

Last Saturday marked the start of the tournament. After four exhilarating games later, Mac’s polo players had triumphed, and can now claim the right to compete at the National Division III club championships in Rochester, New York.

Going into the tournament with a 5-3 record, the team’s fate was anyone’s guess. Their first Saturday game against St. Mary’s ended with a solid victory, and the momentum from that win propelled Mac into a nail-biting one-point loss to St. John’s.

Re-evaluating their strategies, the team on Sunday held Grinnell to a low-scoring, defensive game to win in the overtime 5-4. This win placed the team in position to re-test the mettle of St. John’s in the final match.

With the ticket to Nationals on the line, the polo players came together as one. With each shot rejected by Macalester’s keeper, Murat Ilgen ’08, and each drive toward the goal, the team displayed a great awareness of the overall team strategy and how they fit within it. “They played the team game,” coach Bob Pearson said. The depth of the Macalester team was demonstrated by their ability to still win with three starting players fouled out during the last round. With their teammates and fans on edge, Elliot Ward ’07 provided a spark off the bench, and the Scots held off the Johnnies to win, 8-7.

Two years ago, Macalester’s water polo team won only one game in tournament play. The team, which has been in existence for more than 20 years, is the most competitive it has been in recent history.

Macalester’s success this year is a direct result of focus, lots of early morning practices, and learning from the experience of each game. The team is rather young, drawing upon the knowledge base of both Pearson and the team’s veteran players. Pearson also noted that the team’s awareness of their talent rose throughout the season, helping propel the team to their Divisionals win.

Recruiting among friends and freshman alike, the club has grown this year, and now includes fifteen student-athletes from seven countries around the world. “We have American persistence, Latin flavor, Israeli discipline, and Turkish guts,” All-American captain Elad Rachevsky ’08 said.

Though Rachevsky is the highest scoring member on the team, and a vital force within it, the Scots this year are in not a one-player team. Defense is key in water polo, displayed in Jared Rudolph’s ’08 and David Wright’s ’07 shutting down the offensive drives in their positions as the 2-meter defenders. Once the ball is within Macalester’s hands, Ramiro Nandez’s ’08 creative attacks combined with the greatly improved play of roommates Jeremy Glover ’09 and Tyson Morgan ’09 helped to round out the team’s offense for the season.

Together, they’re headed to New York this weekend. You’ll see these student-athletes about campus, in class, in the pool, and in the basement of the campus center, raising funds to help cover their trip. The cost of the trip is being loaned, but not covered by the Athletic Department.

Macalester’s first game is against Wesleyan University tomorrow. The improvement that has been present throughout the year is expected to continue at this tournament. Pearson put it best: “We are certainly capable of competing at this level.