Junior Matt Miller part of the high-flying Seahawk outfit. Photo Courtesy: Stew Milne
By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor
To those unfamiliar with the peculiar conditions of Northeastern water polo, it’s as stark as the “Four Feet” markings on the back wall of Wagner’s Spiro Center Pool that define its depth at one end. Polo players are penalized for touching bottom, a circumstance virtually impossible to avoid in such a configuration (the pool’s other end is a more reasonable 10 feet deep).
Spiro Center Pool. Photo Courtesy: Wagner Athletics
Thanks to quirky NCAA provisions for shallow-deep pool configuration, all-too common to the region’s smaller programs, polo is contested at Spiro, where the Seahawks continue to be one of the East biggest surprises. A 2-3 home record in 2016 gave way to modest improvement last season when they went 2-1. Halfway through their 2018 home slate, Wagner (8-6; 3-1 MAWPC) is 2-0, with winnable matches against Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference (MAWPC) opponents Johns Hopkins and LaSalle scheduled for the end of this month.
What amplifies the accomplishments of Head Coach Chris Radmonovich and his neophyte program is the Seahawks success in and out of their home environs—especially against local rivals Fordham, Iona and St. Francis Brooklyn.
Wednesday night they registered a dominating 19-9 decision over the Gaels of Iona (4-16; 0-4 NEWPC), who play in an almost identical shallow-deep configuration in New Rochelle. The final score not only underscores a rapid ascent that Wagner’s men have enjoyed in a little over two years of NCAA varsity play. It’s also indicative of a steady decline in Iona’s fortunes. Last year, Wagner was one win away from a first-ever NCAA berth, an opportunity not experienced by Iona in more than 20 years.
Chirs Radmonovich. Photo Courtesy: Wagner Athletics
In three seasons the Gaels have yet to beat the fledgling Seahawks. Two years ago, they dropped a 6-5 decision in the first-ever contest between the programs. Iona lost 12-9 last year and Wednesday were a distant 10 goals behind—a sign of a season that is quickly slipping away. But, for the team from the suburbs of New York City, there’s little shame in losing to the Staten Islanders; overall, #20 Wagner—currently the only local team ranked in the latest Collegiate Water Polo Association men’s varsity poll—can point to a record of 8-4 versus it’s local rivals Iona (3-0), Fordham (3-3) and St. Francis Brooklyn (1-2). This is no small feat; their New York rivals have been competing for decades and—in the case of St. Francis—have gone to an NCAA tournament as recently as 2013.
“Every year we have had some great games against all of the New York City teams; I look forward to all of them and so do the boys,” Radmonvich said by email after the match. “Having four teams in the NYC area has created some great local rivalries and have produced some of the most exciting games that we play each year.”
Wagner quickly broke out to a five goal lead Wednesday night, which grew to 7-1 by the end of the first quarter and 10-3 at the half. Leading the way early—as he has since he arrived last year from New Zealand—was sophomore Jasmin Kolasinac. With four goals on the night, Kolasinac continued a prolific streak of scoring last year that saw him record a program-record 89 goals and 133 points. But his output was just part of the Seahawk offensive outburst; juniors Jack Leighton and Matt Miller along with freshman Vuk Bulajic recorded hat tricks on the night.
With 23 players crowding his roster, perhaps Radmonovich’s greatest accomplishment is keeping his boys hungry for playing time. He’ll need all of their desire if his program is to take the next, perhaps audacious step: an NCAA berth. When Wagner beat top seed Bucknell 10-8 last year in the MAWPC semifinal, the stunning upset greatly accelerated the program’s timetable for success.
Jasmin Kolasinac. Photo Courtesy: Stew Milne
More mundane challenges abound in the coming months; after dropping an 18-9 decision to the #17 Bison last week, the Seahawks will face them again Saturday in the Harvard Invitational. A trip to California next weekend for the Julian Fraser Memorial Tournament at Santa Clara is the prelude to five straight MAWPC contests, including another match against #19 George Washington, who the Seahawks met in their conference final last year. By virtue of an 8-5 victory the Colonials grabbed the title and the conference’s NCAA play-in berth.
The two teams have split games this year, with George Washington rallying from a three-goal deficit in the fourth period to capture a 15-14 decision on the season’s opening day. Wagner returned the favor, winning 14-11 at Spiro three weeks ago.
Their pool’s configuration has clearly engendered success elsewhere; with 15 matches to go before the MAWPC tournament November 17 and 18 at Fordham, there’s still plenty of time for the Seahawks to absorb the lesson learned at home in time for a grand adventure in the Bronx, a mere ferry and subway ride away.
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