Brunswick water polo having breakout season

In a few short years, the Brunswick School water polo team has transformed from a team that just starting to get the correct water polo terms understood to a team that is knocking off some of the best competition throughout the Northeast.

Take last week for example. Traveling up to Deerfield Academy, the Bruins played two New England Prep School Water Polo League games against powers Philips Andover Academy and Philips Exeter Academy. Just a few years ago, Brunswick would be amazed at how strong and determined their opposition was. This time around it was the Bruins flexing its muscle against their opposition last weekend for the first time in team history, beating Andover 11-8 and Exeter 9-5.

“We thought we have grown far enough where we could take on Andover, so that win wasn’t that big of a surprise,” Brunswick head coach Eric Tillman said. “We knew we had to play strong and disciplined. However, the win against Exeter was exceptional. We always held Exeter as the standard. To beat them 9-5 was a new benchmark for us.”

Against Andover earlier in the day, Pat Stefanou and Matt Marvin led the way, with each netting a hat trick. Eric Ronda and Alex Prout each finished with two goals and Connor Kupersmith added one goal in the winning effort. Standout goalie Sander Profaci finished with five saves in net for Brunswick.

The Bruins ended its trip to Deerfield Academy with the 9-5 win over Exeter. Stefanou once again stepped up and finished with three goals, but Marvin, Ronda and Prout all finished with two goals apiece. Profaci was busy in net, finishing with 15 saves and also added five steals.

“We have high goals for this team,” Tillman said. “Realistically, if we win out and do everything right, we should make playoffs, which will have the top four teams. If we make the playoffs, I will consider this a successful season. If we win a game or two in the playoffs, that would be awesome and I couldn’t ask for more. But that’s a lot right now. I just want to make the playoffs. In 2010 and 2011, our win-loss record was the same, so this year we went into the season wanting to beat the teams we haven’t beaten yet, like Hotchkiss and Andover.”

With the two victories last weekend and another solid victory over Horace Mann School on Thursday, Brunswick upped its overall record to 8-1 and 4-1 in the New England Prep School Water Polo League.

While it seems like ancient history that Brunswick was still feeling its way in the sport of water polo, it’s closer than it appears. Tillman started the program in 2009 and didn’t know a lot about the sport. That’s when Ulmis Iordache came in and taught the athletes everything needed to be successful.

“Ulmis is the water polo guru and he’s taught these kids a ton about the game,” Tillman said. “He’s one of the main reasons why this program is so successful.”

Another reason for the team’s success this season are the three captains: Kupersmith, Holden Fett and Profaci.

“They all bring something different to the team,” Tillman said. “Sander is obviously one of the top goalies in the area and he’s got a real passion to the game. He does what he’s supposed to do in order to win. Connor is a fiery kid and plays in the hole. He gives everything that he has and leads by example. Holden has a certain charisma that the team rallies around. The three of them together make up a great team. The kids are following a great group.”

Profaci has been stellar in net throughout the season, but that’s no surprise to Tillman.

“Sander in goal really shows his senior leadership,” Tillman said. “He gives us a ton of confidence. Not only does he make great saves, but he makes great outlet passes. He puts the ball where it’s supposed to be.”

Helping Profaci keep the opposing team’s goals down to a minimum is Kupersmith. While he doesn’t find the back of the net as frequently as most players on the team, that doesn’t mean he’s taking it easy. In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

“Connor plays mainly defense and is in the hole,” Tillman said. He doesn’t get a lot of press, but he’s always defending the opposing team’s best player. He ties them up. Those kids get their goals, but not as many and that’s because of Connor. His work defensively is a main part of our success.”

While defense is leading the Bruins, the offense is stepping up its game. Not from just one person, but a plethora of athletes find their way to the scoresheet. The team’s top scorer is Stefano, but Matt Marvin, Alex Prout, Eric Ronda, Julian Ronda and Emmet McElwreath all can be counted on to score on a regular basis.

“Our strength this year is that we are balanced,” Tillman said. “If you look at our box scores, we have three or four kids that score a couple of goals apiece. The scoring is spread around and it’s not designed around one guy and that makes it difficult for the opposition to shut down one person and slow us down.”

Iordache has the Bruins working on a program that has been highly successful with the United States Olympic Water Polo team.

“We play the same system that the Olympians played in London and it all starts with defense,” Tillman said. “Two weeks of our season we worked on conditioning and defense. It’s from the defense that we often get on our offense. Our offensive threats really know that our strong defense will lead to them getting the ball quickly on transition. We can’t have a weak link defensively or the whole thing falls apart.”

While Brunswick has been playing at a high level, the schedule doesn’t get any easier. During today’s Homecoming festivities at the Brunswick School, the Brunswick water polo team will take to the pool at the YMCA of Greenwich to battle a tough Suffield Academy team. Game time is slated for 2 p.m.

“That’s a real solid team and if we could get past those guys, that would be another big signature win for this program,” Tillman said. “I need to keep everybody pointed in the right direction.”

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