After finishing third in the New England Prep School Water Polo League last year, Brunswick Water Polo is looking to equal that success and perhaps improve upon it, says Coach Eric Tillman. But, it won't be easy. The Bruins lost three tri-captains from last year's squad to graduation. All New England goaltender Sander Profaci, a great shot-stopper who was excellent on clearing passes and a steadying influence in the net, is now at George Washington University; Connor Kupersmith, an All New England center defender, played tenacious `D" and will be hard to replace; and Holden Fett, whose strong shot and a good sense for the game will be sorely missed.
Also gone are the Ronda brothers, Eric and Ian. "Eric was a world-class swimmer who cut back on his training because he wanted to play water polo for Brunswick," says Tillman."His assets were his speed and his size. He could get to loose balls and get out ahead on a fast break. By the same token, he could prevent breaks against us."
Ian was also a very good swimmer. "Ian's speed and craftiness were a great help to us," says Tillman.
Brunswick and Tillman, however, are not focused on who is not here. They are focusing, instead, on who is -- and that includes some pretty impressive talent.
Among the key returning players this season is co-captain Emmet McElwreath. "He has a good shot and strong leadership skills," says Tillman.
Then there is junior center Matt Marvin. "He should score plenty of goals and draw lots of fouls," says Tillman. "He will often require double-teaming, which should free up our outside shooters."
Also back for Wick is Alex Prout, a junior utility player who is very strong on both sides of the ball. "Alex comes from a family of water polo players, so he has a good understanding for the game," says Tillman. "He should contribute to our success all over the pool."
Tillman is happy to see returning junior Grant Pierce back for this season because of his size and strength. "Grant will be a force offensively, both in the hole and on the perimeter," the Brunswick coach says.
Pat Stefanou, a sophomore who was All-New England as a freshman., is also back. "Pat is probably our best all-around player. He is fast, strong, knowledgeable and indefatigable," says Tillman.
Junior Julian Ronda, younger brother to Ian and Eric, also returns to the squad. "Julian is a solid, knowledgeable player," says Tillman, "and will contribute, like Alex Prout, all over the pool."
Then there is senior, co-captain Tommy Tranfo. "He is a utility player with a good shot and good leadership skills," says Tillman.
While all of the above are expected to have a big impact on the season, Tillman is also looking to some younger players and new faces to help the team, such as freshman goalie Charlie Pang.
"Charlie has had an excellent career with Greenwich Aquatics and will be asked to fill big shoes by taking over for Sander Profaci," says Tillman.
Will Marvin, a freshman and younger brother to Matt, also has had a stellar career with Greenwich Aquatics. "He is tall, fast, skilled, and knowledgeable," the Bruin coach says.
Junior James Granruth is an athletic utility player who should help the Bruins this season, as should sophomore Jack Muccia, who has worked hard in the off-season to become stronger in the water,
Two eighth graders who have distinguished themselves with Greenwich Aquatics ,Thacher Scannel and Simon Derby, have also joined the squad. "They are excellent swimmers who know the game really well and have already made an impact on the team in practice," says Tillman.
Sandro Mariani, a sophomore wrestler, will see if his grappling skills translate to the pool this fall. "He has distinguished himself already with his great attitude and improvement over the last week or so," Says Tillman. Mariani is joined by two other newcomers, Will Powers and James Simone. Both are elite-level freshman swimmers who want to play water polo in addition to swimming.
Rounding-out the roster is Jack Stefanou (9), younger brother of Pat; Lukas Bell (10) another wrestler with a great attitude; Patrick Ryan (9), new to water polo, but with good size, and Max Kilberg (9), another young athlete who is new to water polo but is working really hard and is making solid strides.
The bottom line for the season, says Tillman, is that while they will face challenges, the Bruins strength comes from a solid group of returnees with experience playing together. "Our core players have been together for two years now and have developed some good chemistry in the water," says Tillman. "The loss of Sander, Connor, and Holden is significant, but the majority of our starting lineup from last year is returning."
Then there is the "U factor."
"Our other strength is Ulmis Iordache, the assistant coach," says Tillman. "Ulmis is a former star player from Romania who has been crafting his skills as a coach and is gaining national recognition as a youth coach. Brunswick Water Polo wouldn't be where it is now without Ulmis."
As for weaknesses, well, .... "Our weakness is more of a question mark," says Tillman. "How well will the younger players step-up and handle the bigger opponents?"
That question might be answered pretty soon. The Bruins swept their first two league matchups last weekend, defeating Deerfield (10-6) and The Williston Northampton School (13-1) but a bigger test lies just ahead. This weekend's opponents will be Andover and last year's New England champions, Exeter.
"This weekend," says Tillman, "will reveal a great deal."