Two of Maryland’s premier swimming high schools hope to establish water polo teams this fall, with school-sponsored clubs at Whitman and DeMatha poised to make their debuts.
After swimming for eight summers with the MCSL’s Seven Locks Sharks, Whitman junior Nicholas King, 16, has not developed a strong affinity for swimming laps. But he has significantly enjoyed one aspect of his team’s training: water polo.
“I had fun playing water polo with the team,” said King, “so I thought, ‘Why not play it more often?’”
King has taken an unconventional route to explore the sport further. Instead of joining an existing club, he and his classmate Thomas Rogers decided to bring water polo to Whitman. In a matter of months, King and Rogers have founded Whitman Water Polo, a school-recognized co-ed club.
Meanwhile, at DeMatha, plans for a water polo club have been in the works for a few years. English and computer science teacher Tom Krawczewicz, who is entering his 20th year as DeMatha’s head swim coach, has helped lead the process. He does not intend to coach, however.
“I don’t know that much about water polo,” said Krawczewicz. “I used to play informally on Fridays back when I was swimming with a summer team, but that’s my only experience.”
According to Krawczewicz, DeMatha will decide on a coach “within the next week.”
Whitman has hired coach Danielle Looymans of Holland. Looymans currently works as a consular officer at the Royal Netherlands Embassy, and she competes with the Washington Wetskins, a water polo club that practices at the Takoma Community Center Pool in Northwest D.C.
Looymans hopes to improve her team’s physical endurance as the season progresses. She will also emphasize scrimmages to improve her players’ water polo IQ and keep her players engaged. “I just want them all to enjoy what they’re doing and to carry on the love of the sport,” said Looymans.
Whitman will formally begin its season on Aug. 15 and will practice three times per week at Landon’s outdoor pool through October. DeMatha has yet to settle on a practice schedule, but Krawczewicz hopes the team can rent pool time from Prince George’s Community College, the training facility of DeMatha’s swim program. He estimates that the team will hold its introductory practices in the first week of September.
Whitman will likely enjoy a close relationship with Landon’s varsity and junior varsity water polo teams. Coach Looymans hopes to hold a few scrimmages with Landon, and Bears Coach Walt Bartman has invited Whitman players to free morning clinics during the summer.
Both Whitman and DeMatha’s water polo clubs hope to attract varsity swimmers. But few Whitman swimmers have expressed interest thus far. Whitman sprinter Patrick Scordato hopes this will change.
“We have a handful of winter competitive swimmers on the high school team, but all of them have different schedules for their swimming,” said Scordato, a rising junior who placed 5th in both the 50 free and 100 fly at the MCPS Championships this year. “Hopefully, many of them can come out for the team so we can be competitive.”
One question is how the programs will impact their schools’ swim teams. Joe Viola, who will serve his tenth season as Gonzaga’s water polo head coach, believes that Gonzaga’s water polo program has helped produce formidable sprinters.
“The skill of having to stop, start and accelerate really quickly translates itself especially well from water polo to sprint freestyle,” said Viola.
This year, two members of Gonzaga’s All-American 200-yard freestyle relay, rising college freshmen Torey Ortmayer and Nick Knise, captained Gonzaga’s water polo team.
Walt Bartman also coaches Landon’s swim team. Since he founded the school’s water polo program in 2007, he has seen his swim team’s roster expand from 14 to 35.
“I’m very psyched that the school’s going to have water polo,” said Whitman swim and dive coach Geoff Schaefer. “If anything, it will bring attention to the swim team.”
Krawczewicz believes the clubs are primed for rapid growth. “Once we get started, word of mouth is going to make it very easy to have enough players,” Krawczewicz said.
“You just need to get that first year under your belt,” said Viola. Gonzaga’s team doubled from fifteen to thirty players after its inaugural season in 2002.
If DeMatha and Whitman find early success, their club statuses may change. Water polo at Gonzaga became a varsity sport in 2004. After three seasons as a club, Landon Water Polo played its first season as a varsity team last fall.
In order to play against a more extensive variety of teams, Gonzaga and Landon must often look outside the Washington-Baltimore area. But Bartman hopes that the introduction of Whitman and DeMatha signals the beginning of a more diverse local high school water polo community.
“My hope is that eventually we’ll have a Maryland water polo state championship,” said Bartman.
King hopes that his club will “survive and thrive” like its predecessors at Landon and Gonzaga.
“I want this to become a big club that everyone wants to join, like football or basketball,” said King. “I want to leave a lasting impression on Whitman.”