To provide their sons and daughters a leg up in one of the world’s most competitive sports, savvy parents have typically looked in the Los Angeles and Bay areas—twin epicenters of the sport in the U.S—for elite water polo camps.
But as the sport continues to expand beyond its West Coast boundary, camps in the East are being recognized as providing exceptional opportunities for age group players to develop skills, stamina and confidence. There is also an awareness that young athletes need not traverse the country for a chance to be noticed and mentored by some of the nation’s top college coaches.
David Andriole, head coach of the men’s water polo team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, understands this trend as much as any coach in the country. Not only must he negotiate some of the toughest recruiting standards in NCAA varsity water polo—MIT is one of the world’s most exclusive academic institutions and does not offer athletic scholarships—but Andriole has lived and played and coach polo all over the country, including a stint in Los Angeles from 1995 to 2014 when he was and television and motion picture actor.
“It’s important for high level water polo camps that are designed to teach all types of players, beginner to elite, occur here on the East Coast,” said Andriole, who grew up playing water polo in Connecticut, including club polo at Yale. “It helps grow our sport overall, and there’s an athletic talent pool here that loves the sport and benefits from more local opportunities. And when kids from the West come East to join a camp, you start to see bonds created that might not have been otherwise.”
Following is a selection of Eastern camps still available for July and August in Greenwich, Princeton and Providence, all of which offer exceptional coaching, fantastic facilities and opportunities to impress some of the more influential coaches in the region.
East Coast Water Polo Clinic is a new camp at the YMCA of Greenwich, whose Olympic-quality facility hosted a match last summer between the U.S. Senior Women’s National Team and the national team of Hungary. Overseen by Ulmis Iordache, head coach for the Greenwich Aquatics water polo club—arguably the best age group program on the East Coast—the two-day camp (July 15 – 16) offers a small ratio of players per coach, a focus on positional skills, and the presence of two world-class players from Iordace’s native Romania.
Alexandru Ghiban and Dimitri Goanta, currently members of the Romanian men’s water polo team, represented Romania in the 2016 European Championships as well as the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
“I know both these players for a long time,” Iordache said recently by phone. “Alexandru has been continuously playing professionally since he was 17. They both went to the Olympics and both have a vast career playing for different teams in Europe.”
When asked what distinguished his program from other local options, Iordache, also is the head coach for the Brunswick boys and Greenwich Academy girls high school teams, said: “My goal is to bring a different style to of play to local athletes.”
The cost for two 8-hour days is $350 and includes lunch. For more information contact Coach Iordache at [email protected]
One of the newer aquatics facility in the East, the Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center at Brown University in Providence, is hosting four separate water polo camps this summer. Two remain: July 31 – August 2 for athletes ages 12 – 19; and August 2 – 5 is an elite camp for ages 14 – 19.
The camp is run by Felix Mercado, head coach for the Brown men’s and women’s water polo teams. One of the East’s top varsity programs—the Bruins qualified for the 2014 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament—Mercado’s camp helps developing players improve their skills whole providing invaluable exposure to coaches from varsity programs in the East.
“We try to provide an opportunity for all levels of ability to improve on understanding the fundamentals of the game,” Mercado said by email. “I always stress that we cannot make them Olympians in four days or even the top recruit in the country, but we will try to help them understand and enjoy this wonderful game.”
A hallmark of the Brown elite-level camp is the opportunity for athletes to make an impression on a coach with a varsity men’s or women’s program. Mercado addressed head on the hopes that many parents have for their children’s athletic careers.
“In our camps I also try to bring in as many college coaches as possible so that the campers get an opportunity to learn from different minds.” he said. “It without a doubt makes our camps, especially the Elite Camps, special.”
Mercado, who carefully combs the East for underappreciated talent, consistently identifies recruits in his camp. He said that the exposure to coaches from varsity programs at Indiana, Bucknell, MIT, Conn College, Marist and Hartwick is a definite benefit of Brown’s camp.
Another top program—and one of Brown’s chief antagonists in the Northeast Water Polo Conference—is at Princeton University . Offering an excellent opportunity to work with head men’s and women’s coach Luis Nicolao and his staff, this year campers will also be mentored by Ashleigh Johnson, one of the country’s top water polo players. The goalie for the U.S. Olympic team that captured gold last August at the Rio Olympic Games, Johnson—who was a four-year starter for the Tigers—was recently awarded the Peter J. Cutino Award, becoming the first player in the East to ever win the most prestigious award in college water polo.
The elite camp will be held from August 3 – 6 at Princeton’s impressive DeNunzio Pool.
Coach Nicolao, who in 18 season at Princeton has taken his men’s and women’s teams to seven NCAA tournaments, is justifiably proud both of the quality of his camp as well as the significance of a residential program at one of the nation’s finest academic institutions.
“Not only do our campers get high end training experience but the opportunity to spend four days on one of the most prestigious campuses in the world,” he said by email.
Like Brown’s camp, Nicolao’s program has a history of connecting prospective athletes with varsity college programs. Not only is the Princeton coaching staff on hand—including assistant coaches Derek Ellingson and Rebecca Dorst—in years past Harvard, George Washington, Iona, Wagner, Bucknell, Hawaii, Villanova, Loyola Marymount, and Stanford have been represented by a coach or a current player.
“For the past 15 years we have had a camper end up on the team, almost every year,” Nicolao said.