Stellar season for Vidale, Greenwich High boys water polo team

Greenwich High senior captain Edward Moss goes after the ball during a recent game this season. — Cheryl Moss photo

Greenwich High senior captain Edward Moss goes after the ball during a recent game this season. — Cheryl Moss photo

For Greenwich High School head coach Chris Vidale, it was business as usual for his boys water polo team. And the best part for the first-year head coach was that he was able to do things his way.

“This year was awesome,” Vidale said. “The thing that made it so great was that at the beginning of the season that I could see all the talent that was on this team. There wasn’t that much teaching involved and we were able to get right down to strategy. We were able to work with them on their set positions and where they needed to be right away. Terry Lowe did a wonderful job with the developmental process with these guys, and it was nice to pick up right where he left off.”

Right from the start of the season, things were obviously going to be different. For the first time since the program was formed four decades ago, Terry Lowe wasn’t going to be the head coach. After retiring from water polo, Lowe left a huge hole to fill. In came Vidale, a 2007 graduate of Iona College and a highly successful water polo athlete.

Greenwich High’s Jack Kerwin fires a shot at the net during a game this season. — Cheryl Moss photo

Greenwich High’s Jack Kerwin fires a shot at the net during a game this season. — Cheryl Moss photo

“On a personal level, since the high school announced I was the coach, there was a constant, ‘You have big shoes to fill’ and that I was getting compared to Terry Lowe,” Vidale said. “I think it’s great that the school and team loved him that much, but at the end of the day I wanted to make sure I was doing the right thing.

“On day one I had to set the right tone with the kids and they realized I’m a fun-loving guy,” Vidale said. “But the whip would be cracked when needed. The best part of this team was being around kids that truly love the sport of water polo. These are kids right now that would get together and play handball on the basketball court at 6 a.m. That was our lifting time, so they enjoy each other’s company.”

Since the first day, Big Red has been improving. Leading the way for Big Red was its version of the Miami Heat’s big three, as senior captains Edward Moss, Alex Zim and Jack Kerwin have been lights out throughout the season.

“I consider them like my Miami Heat when they had Lebron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh,” Vidale said. “Alex would be like Bosh because he’s very defensive minded. The killer shooter would be Jack Kerwin, because he’s such a lights out shooter from up top or on the post up. The guy who is the born leader who is the staple on the team is Edward Moss. He’s very athletic and could play inside or outside. He’s both extremely offensive-minded and extremely defensive-minded.”

However, when the pressure is on, that’s when the leaders shine brightest.

“Combined, the team really looks to them in crunch time for leadership and their ability to get the job done,” Vidale said. “They can put the ball in the back of the net and the team looks to them for some words of encouragement. They stepped up when it was time to step up. Coming from a college background, I might have put a little too much on their plate and expected more, but what they gave me and the team was definitely beneficial.”

When it came to scoring, it was junior Nick Hyden who paced the team. Although he was tied with Moss with 34 goals, a nine-goal outburst by Hyden during the season finale against Navy helped him finish with 43 goals. Kerwin finished with 36 goals on the season, while Moss finished with 35. Ryan Olesen added 19 goals, while Jack Capossela grabbed 18 goals. Brad Paradise netted 11 goals.

“What makes Nick a special player is that he knows what it takes to get the job done,” Vidale said. “He comes from a long background of water polo. Both of his older brothers played water polo. A lot of guys want to show that they are just as strong as other guys, but Nick knows how to capitalize on his opportunities. He will find the weaker guy and dominate him and the bigger guy will step up and Nick will still dominate him, too. Nick is able to go inside and outside, but Nick will take the shot whenever he’s able to. He’s a special player that’s a great shooter. I’m going to put a lot of weight on his shoulders next year and I’m hoping he will respond.”

While Hyden also led the team with 17 assists, Moss wasn’t far behind with 16 assists.

“For some reason Edward will be wide open and won’t take the shot,” Moss said. “He would rather find somebody else than be selfish and take that shot. He knows how to incorporate everybody.”

In addition, Kerwin grabbed 10 assists, while Capossela grabbed seven assists. Brian O’Leary, Olesen and Zim each took home five assists.

Big Red’s Alex Zim charges to the ball during a recent game. — Cheryl Moss photo

Big Red’s Alex Zim charges to the ball during a recent game. — Cheryl Moss photo

Moss led the Cardinals in steals, finishing the season with 23 overall. Hyden was second with 18 steals, while Kerwin and Zim each took home 16. Olesen ended the season with 10 steals.

Between the pipes for GHS was Matt Ambrose. When Vidale first saw Ambrose play during a summer league game, the head coach admitted he was a little nervous for his goalie in the fall. However, that all changed during the first week of practice, as Ambrose consistently improved his game. Throughout the season, the goalie finished with 80 saves.

“The thing that was great about him was that he put in the work from day one,” Vidale said. “You only get a couple of months with the kids in the fall and Matt worked so hard. He focused so hard on his ball blocks and his legs and following the ball. It really paid off for him. He put in some extra work and it really showed. He came through for us in a big way during several games.”

Having a first-year head coach, the Cardinals did go through an adjustment period. What made the season so successful for Vidale was how quickly the chemistry formed.

“I am a very active coach and I like to always be moving,” Vidale said. “I believe that everybody needs to get in there and get out and I thought it took us a little while to get used to all that moving. I swim them hard and that’s something that they weren’t used to. They were used to setting up the umbrella, working the ball around, getting it into somebody and hopefully it works out. As the game started progressing our play started to get stronger and stronger. Teams didn’t know how to break through that.”

One of the things that Vidale would like to see changed next season is the way his program ends the season. Water polo isn’t a sanctioned sport in both the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference and the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference.

Because of water polo not being sanctioned, there is no conference or state championship to play for.

“I grew up in Florida and we have three divisions for our state championships,” Vidale said. “Doing a championship only helps grow the sport and that’s the most important thing. It’s a little sad that I have these kids that are dedicated to the sport but there is no measure of greatness for them because we don’t have a state championship. It’s a little lackluster how we ended the season. I was under the impression that we were going down to Navy to play in the Eastern championship and it just turned out to be only four games. For myself it was a letdown and I think for the seniors that worked hard all year it was a letdown for them as well. I wanted them to have such a nice end to their high school career.”

For the GHS head coach, after talking it over with athletic director Gus Lindine, he would like to start a state championship for water polo in Connecticut.

“If you’re a club water polo team, or prep school team or a public high school team that plays water polo and in Connecticut, you can compete,” Vidale said. “People put in a lot of hard work and some of the kids play year-round and I want them to have something where they could showcase what they could do. With the handful of teams that are in Connecticut, I think we would be able to showcase, not only our kids, but all the other teams that work so hard every year.”

While there wasn’t a way to measure how good Greenwich High School was this season, Vidale believes he had one of the best high school water polo teams around.

“If they were playing the way that they were playing like they did when we went up against the Naval Academy and the Greenwich YMCA, I would say we could be a top 20 team in the nation in the high school circuit,” Vidale said.

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