The Brunswick School water polo team had some concerns entering this season.
Although nearly everybody on the roster was returning this season, Brunswick head coach Eric Tillman knew he had some massive holes to fill, as top-notch goalie Sander Profaci and defensive standout Connor Kupersmith graduated from the program.
However it’s been business as usual for the Bruins, who have battled some of the elite teams in the Northeast and have started the season a perfect 7-0.
“This is the best way to start for us,” Tillman said. “Being 7-0 is just awesome, but this kind of start was one of our goals this season. Our two big wins over Andover and Exeter were the tests. We were pretty confident we were going to come out with victories, but we weren’t going in there thinking that we could just walk in and win. But we also knew losses to both wouldn’t have been disastrous either. It’s a benchmark to where we are.”
Not only has Brunswick picked up six wins, but they’ve done it in grand fashion. After starting the season with a 10-6 victory over Deerfield and a 12-1 victory over Williston, the Bruins took care of Hotchkiss School 17-8.
However, it was their weekend playing both Andover and Exeter that has been the driving force to the team’s success. Against Andover, Brunswick needed three overtimes, but came away with the thrilling 10-9 victory. Against Exeter, Brunswick finished with the 7-5 win.
“They played really well in those two games,” Tillman said. “In the Andover game, they thought the game was over and finished, but there was a timing error. After we were already out of the pool, we had to get back into the pool, get fired up again and play three overtimes. We finally won and I am really proud of the kids for hanging in there and coming away with the victory.”
The Bruins took their momentum and dominated Horace Mann in a 16-10 victory. In that game, sophomore Pat Stefanou led the way with seven goals. Not far behind was junior Matt Marvin, who netted five goals. Junior Julian Ronda added two goals and the duo of sophomore Will Marvin and eighth-grader Simon Derby each added a goal.
“It’s a fun group of guys,” Tillman said. “I am really impressed. The older guys treat the younger kids well and the younger kids look up to the upperclassmen. I am having a great time coaching them because they are fun to be around and are all really into water polo.”
Right from the start of the season, Brunswick knew there could be challenges, due to the loss of Profaci and Kupersmith to graduation.
Stepping up in the goalie position this season is freshman Charlie Pang and the Bruins aren’t missing a beat. Tillman said that he’s not expecting Pang, a product of Greenwich Aquatics, to replace Profaci as a freshman, but admits that Pang has done an excellent job between the pipes.
“Pang is another Greenwich Aquatics guy, so he’s had excellent coaching at the lower levels,” Tillman said. “He’s really focused and is a hard worker. He got his workouts and just does it. He has a pretty level head and has a very short memory, which is great for a goalie to have. My only concern was that he played only in his age group and now he’s going up against some big boys. But he has done a great job.”
Backing up Pang in net is sophomore Sandro Mariani, a veteran in the world of wrestling, but a newcomer to the sport of water polo. Wanting to come out for the water polo team just to get in shape for wrestling, Tillman asked Mariani to play goalie and was instantly impressed with his ability between the pipes. Now he’s the backup for Pang.
Just as big of a loss for Brunswick this year was Kupersmith, a mainstay on defense and led the way to keep the ball away from the Brunswick goalie the majority of the time. Ronda has filled in nicely and a couple of other guys, such as Matt Marvin, Stefanou, Derby and junior James Granruth, have rotated in there and have done a solid job.
Leading the way for Brunswick this year are senior co-captains Emmet McElwreath and Tom Tranfo.
“We have had a pretty good season so far,” McElwreath said. “It was questionable coming into the season because of the seniors we lost, but we practiced hard for our games and made a strong performance. We haven’t let up yet. We have played the strongest teams in New England and have looked good in those wins. We have a great group of guys and we have fun in practice, but we are able to keep it serious during games.”
McElwreath didn’t see much time last year with the Bruins, but Tillman met up with his captain at the end of last year and told him that he needs his captains in the pool as much as possible during games.
“Emmet has worked really hard during practice and has made the effort during the offseason,” Tillman said. “He gets quality minutes and he’s a contributor. He’s a steady force and is gaining force.”
Tranfo is another senior captain, who Tillman believes works incredibly hard, both in and out of the pool, and has solid leadership skills.
While Pang has been a strength for the Bruins between the pipes, Tillman said that the team’s defense will be a key to their success. In addition to Ronda, Matt Marvin, junior Grant Pierce and Stefanou will be playing key defensive roles.
“Our defense is really a team effort, as we have been preaching since day one,” Tillman said. “Everybody on the roster needs to contribute on defense. Brunswick is known for their constant pressing. Ronda, Marvin, Pierce and Stefanou are the cornerstones of the defense. They work really hard. Pat is a sophomore and he’s also our high scorer. He’s our strongest player, but he’s relentless on defense.”
In addition to Stefanou on the attack, Brunswick has a plethora of scorers, such as Matt Marvin in the hole.
“He’s put on some excellent size over the summer and is now big and strong. He’s also a little mean and you need that when you play attack. When you’re so strong, defenses usually try to find him, so that opens up our outside shooters like Alex Prout (junior), Pat and Pierce.”
Also helping out on both sides of the ball is Will Marvin, Matt’s younger brother. Will Marvin is also an experienced water polo athlete, coming up from the Greenwich Aquatics program. While his name isn’t found on the scoring column a lot of the time, it’s his passing that is incredibly valuable to the team’s success.
“He can be counted on for goals and making the right pass,” Tillman said. “He might not score a lot, but he’s getting the ball where it needs to be. He makes good entry passing into his brother and understanding how to accomplish that kind of pass comes from an experienced player.”
Yesterday, Brunswick continued its quest for perfection when they traveled to Westport to play Staples High School. With Stefanou leading the way, the Bruins left Staples with the 14-9 victory.
Stefanou had a stellar afternoon for Brunswick, as he paced the team with six goals. The combination of Prout and Derby each netted two goals, while teammates Will Marvin, Matt Marvin and Pierce each added one goal.
In net, starter Pang finished with five saves for Brunswick, while Mariani came in for relief and made two saves on the day.
On Saturday, the Bruins will hit the road and travel to Loomis for a competition against Williston Northampton School and Loomis Chaffee School starting at 3 p.m.
“I think we know what we are capable of, but at the beginning of the season, getting all those wins was definitely a pleasant surprise,” McElwreath said. “Every year, since the four years that we’ve been a team, we have been trying to improve the best we can. Last year was the breakthrough when we made New Englands and finished third. I think we can best what we did last year.”