Five Questions with Ilija Duretic, St. Francis Brooklyn Men’s Water Polo


A match-up between St. Francis College Brooklyn and Stanford has often been a measuring stick for Terrier’s men’s water polo. At Princeton’s DeNunzio Pool Friday night, St. Francis will face one of the nation’s top teams with a new coach behind the bench.

Ilija Duretic, who played for St. Francis from 2013-16, was hired last month to lead a program that lost the 2020 season to COVID-19—and head coach Bora Dimitrov, who stepped down from the job after three seasons.

[There’s Joy in Brooklyn Heights —Ilija Duretic Named St. Francis Brooklyn Men’s Water Polo Coach]

In the past decade, St. Francis and Stanford have faced each other seven times—all Cardinal victories—including four times in early season competition on the East Coast. The only close contest occurred in the very first match between the two teams—an 11-6 Stanford win in 2011 at University of Pacific when the Terriers were in the midst of a run of three Final Four appearance in four years (2010, 2012, 2013).

The most recent match was a 15-5 Cardinal win at the 2018 Princeton Invitational—the closest the Terriers, who have not qualified for NCAAs since 2013—have been to Stanford since that match a decade ago. The Cardinal won a national championship in 2019, the program’s 10th title.

St. Francis (2-0) got off to a fast start last Saturday in Providence at the Bruno Invitational, notching wins over Wagner and Gannon as well as in an exhibition match against the Gators’ masters team from Florida. Stanford (3-0) is coming East after a season-opening decision over San Jose State, a win in overtime against Pacific, and one that tagged Santa Clara with the Broncos’ first loss of 2021.

Earlier this week, TWp was in contact with Duretic regarding his previous stint as a player with the Terriers, the impact of COVID-19 on his program’s progress and the perpetual challenges New York City-based polo programs face growing the sport in the nation’s largest city.

You’re now leading the St. Francis Brooklyn’s men’s program after having been a player for the Terriers. How has your previous experience in Brooklyn Heights prepared you to lead of one of the East’s premier men’s programs? 

I am grateful for my time as a St Francis College Terrier student athlete. One of the biggest things that I gained from my four years at SFC was how to deal with the adversity living in New York City. I have no doubt that this current team will learn how to stay resilient in the face of adversity.

– How much has the COVID-19 layoff affected planning for the fall 2021 season?

Thanks to the support of St Francis College, we always knew we would plan on competing in the Fall of 2021. We have stayed positive and are so excited to get back in the pool together for the first time as a team, and for the first time as a program in a year and a half.

St. Francis pool. Photo Courtesy: St. Francis Brooklyn Athletics

– How will you measure success this season? What does your program need to accomplish to sustain itself in the unpredictable world of collegiate athletic budgets?

I will measure the success of this year’s Terriers by how hard they work in the classroom as well as the pool. We need to continue to stay positive and keep our minds on the end goal, which is to compete for a conference title. We don’t have the best pool—although a nice home field advantage—but if we are able to overcome setbacks we endure, we will be the most successful team come Conference.

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– It’s hard to predict how a season will go but are there specific athletes you believe will be impact performers for 2021?

I do not want to name any specific names. I am so excited for this team as a whole, they have worked hard together both in person as well as virtually. The chemistry is good and they have each other’s backs. With our 5 goalies and 15 field players it is going to take a group effort to have a successful season.

– New York is a tough town, and water polo is a tough sport! Besides success (!) what do you think will raise the visibility of the sport / your program in the country’s media capital?

We have to do a better job of getting New York City’s youth involved in Water Polo. COVID-19 did put a pause on some momentum but hopefully soon we can start traveling all around the country and show how much talent in water polo New York City has.