CAMBRIDGE, MA. By virtue of a gritty 6-5 win over Iona Saturday at the Harvard Invitational, the Wagner men’s water polo team laid claim to being New York’s best. The Staten Island-based Seahawks, in their inaugural season of play as a varsity program, had previously beaten St. Francis Brooklyn on September 18 and Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference rival Fordham last Thursday.
“We still have another game against Fordham, but our games against the New York schools have been great,” Wagner head coach Chris Radmonovich said following his team’s win over Iona. “It was definitely one of our goals to compete hard against local schools and so far we have. I hope that we can have a good rivalry between all four of the schools in the future as it’s great for all of us.”
Despite starting from scratch a little more than two years ago, Wagner (7-14; 3-5 CWPA South) has had a strong showing so far this season. Along with wins over their New York rivals, the Seahawks have also have wins over perennial Eastern power Navy, 2015 CWPA Championship final runner-up Johns Hopkins, Connecticut College and the University of Toronto. With 14 true freshmen and three transfer students on his roster, Coach Radmonovich believes he has a foundation on which to build for the future.
“The best part of this whole thing is all these kids are going to be back next year,” he said. “This team gets to grow this year and to come back and do it again next year. Add to that athletes we’ll have coming in and we’ll be able to progress over the next couple of years.”
If Wagner’s neophyte program has one defining characteristic, it’s resilience. In a match earlier Saturday against host Harvard, Wagner was down 12-2 at the half. The Seahawks never quit, outscoring the Crimson 9-5 after intermission to make for a more respectable 17-11 final score.
Not surprising, his team’s character is a product of design.
“The theme for this year is we know we’re going to have ups and downs and we know were going to play against very good, established teams,” Radmonovich said. “And we’re going to have some tough days. But we’ve got to go out there and compete in all these games. That’s what we’re looking for every day.”
One coach who has taken notice of Wagner’s success is Ted Minnis, head coach for the men’s and women’s teams at Harvard.
“Everyone is saying they’re a first year program,” Minnis said Saturday on the Blodgett Pool deck. “Chris is not a first year coach and he’s not a first year coach at Wagner. He’s been there seven years coaching their women. He knows how to recruit there, knows how to make his schedule, and Chris is a great coach. He did a great job of mixing in junior college transfers with internationals and with freshmen.
“I’m not surprised at what they’re doing and how they’re playing.”
In the their second match of the day, the Seahawks proved their mettle by rallying past the Gaels (7-14; 1-4 CWPA North).
Iona broke out to a 3-0 first quarter lead on the strength of goals by Andres Guerra, Zach Roper and Matthew Rothman. The Seahawks narrowed the gap in the second period, getting two goals by Matthew Miller and one from Ciaran Wolohan to offset Gael tallies by Quinn Lloyd and a second from Guerra.
After intermission the Seahawk defense took over. Spearheaded by goalie Joseph Ferraro, Wagner shut out Iona for the remainder of the match. In the third period Oscar Nomura scored to narrow his team’s deficit to a single goal, than a two goal burst by Miller at the beginning of the final period proved decisive — first, with 7 minutes remaining to tie the game at five, then again a minute later — to give Wagner it’s first lead of the game.
Iona had a great chance with 4:20 left, but Hudson Grieve could not corral a pass in front of Ferraro. The Gaels failed to convert two late 6 on 5 advantages — with 3:40 left and again with 20 seconds remaining — as the Seahawks held on for the win.
Even though there’s still a long way to go in his team’s season, Radmonovich can take a measure of satisfaction with his program’s rapid progress.
“It’s been tough getting everybody together and having so many freshmen,” he admitted. “We definitely have our ups and our downs [but] you can see a progression forward over the course of the season.”
The Seahawks — more than halfway through their season — have more challenges ahead, including a trip to California next weekend to face Santa Clara, Loyola, UC-Davis and Fresno Pacific University.
Radmonovich knows this first-ever trip West offers numerous benefits.
“It’s big in recruiting because we recruit a lot from that area,” he said. “So it’s very important for us to go out there and be successful. None of these kids have ever been on a trip before… and [a] lot of them are from California so they’re excited to go back.”
In perhaps what might apply to the entire season, Radmonovich said: “It will be a good opportunity to test ourselves.”
Then there’s the inevitable question: is starting a new program worth it?
“I’ve had a great time doing this,” the Seahawks’ coach said, breaking into a grin. “Having a great group of guys has made it all worthwhile.”