Men's Water Polo Pushes for Next Step

Pierce Deamer and the Colonials open at Navy this weekend.
Aug. 30, 2017

There were some confused looks when Barry King directed his George Washington men's water polo players to fan out along the pool's edge.

That uncertainty at the season-opening practice quickly gave way to smiles once the Colonials heard the assignment. The session was over -- after they congratulated each other on a job well done. They'd finish with a round of handshakes and back slaps down the line.



The ritual has become an everyday staple for GW under King. If it seems borrowed from Little League, it's because it is. The veteran coach decided to try it for the first time this season after a summer spent watching his son on the diamond.

"We want to make each other better on a daily basis," said King, who started at GW on July 31 after 19 seasons at Indiana. "That line is basically us saying thank you to each other for making each other better."

King believes that mindset will go a long way toward helping GW to make the next step. The Colonials fell to host Bucknell in the MAWPC Championship final last fall.

The group gained confidence from their best finish ever at the conference tournament and No. 15 national ranking but also a better understanding of the improvement it will take to win the title. The Colonials were slotted No. 18 nationally in the Collegiate Water Polo Association poll, released Wednesday.

"We came so close, but we've got to take it in stride," said Pierce Deamer, a senior who posted 45 goals and 16 assists in 2016. "Now, we've got to use that experience to propel us this year. We don't really have any other choice."

It's been a whirlwind few weeks for King and his Colonials. The coach started learning his personnel in his first few days on the job by watching video of every conference game from last season.

Since practice began Aug. 17, the coach has stayed busy teaching new concepts and terminology in the countdown to Saturday's opener at the Navy Open.

"The attitude has been terrific," King said. "For the most part, they've been wanting to have permission to be as good as they possibly can be."

For the Colonials, new wrinkles, like the handshake line, have kept the preseason interesting and sped up the get-to-know-you process.

"I really like how he's all about the team and about we," sophomore Andrew Mavis said. "Showing gratitude to each other and working well together, it's really important."

Plenty of familiar faces are back to help with GW's championship chase. The Colonials return nine of their top 10 scorers, though the one who graduated was four-time All-American Bogdan Petkovic.

Atakan Destici leads the way after posting 82 goals, 45 assists and 87 steals last fall. The sophomore from Turkey has quickly earned a reputation as one of the top players on the East Coast.

King favors a free-flowing offensive style that offers players freedom to create. The coach has challenged Destici to find more ways to make his teammates better.

"I'd be the worst coach in the world if I didn't get him the ball in certain situations," King said, "but the more balanced we are and the more dangerous we are from the other positions, that's going to make him that much more effective, too."

It won't be easy to replace Petkovic, who made a major impact on both ends. The Serbia native closed his decorated career third on the program's all-time scoring list and No. 1 in steals and field blocks.

Deamer, Mavis (39 goals in 2016) and Duke Becker (13 goals, 20 assists) will be counted on to fill in the gaps. King is expecting more contributions from Jordan Blosser, Brett Else and Noah McKinnie Braun, too.

The attack also gets a boost from the addition of freshmen Andras Levai and Kerim Sismanoglu. Both are left-handed, so King is hoping they can provide a different look, particularly on the power play. The coach has made improving on last season's 45 percent conversion rate with a man advantage a priority.

In net, GW returns its top two goalkeepers in Matt Taylor and Austin Pyrch. The Colonials also added freshman Vaios Vlahotasios, who put together an impressive junior career in his native Greece.

"We've just got a good core group of guys who are willing to bring energy to every situation," King said. "Now our job over the next two months is to get that organized and moving toward the goal of winning contests."

That push begins in earnest this weekend and finishes with the MAWPC Championship on Nov. 17-19, in Annapolis, Md. The hope is steady progress -- and a daily handshake line -- lead to the program's first conference title.

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