Championship game or bust for Brunswick School water polo

The Brunswick School water polo team has a gorgeous new home and a renewed determination to get to the championship game of the New England Liquid Four. — John Ferris Robben

The Brunswick School water polo team has a gorgeous new home and a renewed determination to get to the championship game of the New England Liquid Four. — John Ferris Robben

Last year’s early exit in the New England tournament left a bitter taste in mouth of the Brunswick School water polo team. However, with most of the team back from last year, head coach Eric Tillman’s squad will be looking to find its way to the championship game.

“We lost two players from last year, but we have the core of our offense and defense back,” Tillman said. “We were very good last year and I think with the players that we have coming back, we should be just as good, if not better than last year.”

The Brunswick School water polo team is eyeing to be in the New England championship game, which will be played at the Edwards Campus. — John Ferris Robben photo

The Brunswick School water polo team is eyeing to be in the New England championship game, which will be played at the Edwards Campus. — John Ferris Robben photo

After an 10-0 regular season season last year, the Brunswick water polo team headed into the New England tournament as the top-seed. While the Bruins lost both games to Deerfield and Andover, teams they beat during the regular season, to end their season, it would be easy to say that Brunswick will be playing with a chip on their shoulder.

“I remind our kids all the time that winning those big games in big situations is what we need to work on,” Tillman said. “We beat Andover in the regular season, but they peaked at the right time, came back and beat us soundly. We have to learn how to deal with that adversity. That’s my goal this year. I want my kids here to have a little bit of an attitude.”

This time around, with the New England championships taking place at Brunswick School for the first time, Tillman has his goals set high.

“The goal is to be in the New England finals,” Tillman said. “I’m not going to put all the pressure on them to say that we need to win it, but I want to win that first game and be in the finals. I don’t think that’s an unreasonable goal.”

Helping Brunswick this season reach new heights will be captains Julian Ronda, Matt Marvin and Alex Prout, all familiar names to the program.

“The three of them work hard, they listen and are great kids,” Tillman said. “The team respects the captains and they are learning a lot from those three. Matt will once again play in the hole, and we expect Julian to be our primary hole defender. Alex is a very good shooter and we expect big things from him this year.”

Other seniors that will help the captains teach the younger athletes what is expected from the team are Grant Pierce and James Granruth.

“In order for us to be successful, all five seniors need to step up their game and teach the underclassmen here,” Tillman said. “It’s very important if we are going to compete with all those tough teams we play.”

When it comes to shooters on the team, junior Pat Stefanou will lead the way. Last year the two-time All-New England player dominated the pool and led the way with 69 goals on the season. Tillman expects more of the same this time around as well. Joining Stefanou will be Simon Derby, Will Marvin, Jack Muccia, Thatcher Scannell and Prout.

“Those guys we expect to play a lot and they will help us go 10 or 11 deep,” Tillman said. “That’s key for our team because the all-deep pool we have here at Brunswick will make us in better shape and if we can continue to play hard, we can have guys come in. That way we always have fresh legs.”

 In net this year we be returning standout Charlie Pang, who made All-New England last year as a freshman.

“He has great legs and can get the hands going,” Tillman said. “He’s played a lot of high-level water polo, so he sees the plays. The game slows down for him. The one thing I want him to do is talk to the defense. He’s starting to do that more than he did last year.”

When it comes to the defense in front of Pang, Tillman believes that the entire team will contribute.

“This is one of those games where if one guy is out of position, the whole thing falls apart,” Tillman said. “It’s a funny game like that. We expect the guys to play good defense. We think defense forward. Strong defense starts with our offense. Guys that want to get in have to be strong defenders first. That’s the way we think.”

In addition to the team’s strong chemistry and desire to learn at a quick pace, Tillman is thrilled with his team’s versatility.

But Tillman would also like to see his team get a little toughness to it towards playoff time.

“Our guys can play anywhere,” Tillman said. “That’s what makes us so strong. We are interchangeable. They have been learning how to play inside, how to play outside and how to shoot. We really don’t have assigned positions. Come playoff time, I would like to see a little more grit and improve our offense from the hole. If we can do this, I think we can go really far.”

One thing that the Brunswick water polo team won’t have to go far for anymore is practice.

With the completion of the natatorium on the Edwards Campus, the Bruins have a stunning new home.

The eight-lane pool holds around 300,000 gallons of water and the floor on the bottom of one-half of the pool is on a hydraulic lift, meaning that the pool can be an all-deep pool or have a shallow end.

“This place is beautiful,” Tillman said. “The filtration system here is state of the art and it’s just beautiful water. The kids love it, the coaches love it and it’s gorgeous. This program is so lucky to be able to call this place our home. Because we are one of three teams in New England that has an all-deep pool, we get to host the New England tournament. Hotchkiss and Exeter have paid their dues, so I was thrilled to get the championships here.”

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