WATER POLO AT GHS: A BRIEF HISTORY
1974 marked the beginning of a formal interscholastic water polo program at Greenwich High School. It was initiated in response to requests by members of the GHS swim team for a significant competitive fall activity, prior to the winter swim season. Most of the swimmers lacked the skills or experience to participate in other fall sports programs at the high school. An in-place, but loosely defined, fall conditioning program for swimming was unrewarding and did not satisfy their desire to compete. Water polo could fill the fall void and was relatively compatible with their high goals as swimmers. Polo also served to bring the swimmers together in a game and team sport as radically different from swimming as basketball is from running. The fall of 1974 barely gave the swimmers a taste for interscholastic competition with just a couple of games with East Haven High and the Southern Connecticut State College junior varsity. The need to expand the number of games and the level of competition (to college and prep school opponents) was obvious. In order to play suitable competition, the polo became a 'road team', regularly traveling hundreds of miles to play regional tournaments.
The fall of 1975 began the baptism of the team in serious competition. In its first 'full' season, the team completed a ten-game schedule with a record of 4 wins and 6 losses. The Big Red hosted its first Cardinal Invitational Tournament, and, in "trial by fire", lost all three games by the one-sided scores of 23-4, 13-2, and 29-5 to Montclair Academy, Trinity College and Phillips Exeter Academy, respectively. Parity with the top scholastic teams seemed a long way off.
The school yearbook featured both the 1974 and 1975 teams in the club section of the Compass. As the level of competition escalated, the Compass, beginning with the 1976 yearbook, placed Polo in the Sports section, recognizing that the team functioned on a level with most other varsity sports programs at GHS.
Beginning with 1976, the Water Polo Club moved into the ranks of winning teams with an 8-6 season. A 14-11 loss to Exeter, New England's premier program, showed that the competitive gap was closing fast. In 1977, at 17-3, the team also claimed its first championship in the Cardinal Tournament, coming up, in an overtime thriller, with its first victory ever over Exeter. Its only three losses coming against collegiate opponents, this team also beat Exeter on the road to lay claim to a mythical New England title (GHS was not yet included in the N.E. Tournament) on which PEA had a stranglehold in the all-prep school tournament. It was also the first team that graduated future collegiate stars. Jeff Grey was a dominant player on a good Monmouth College team and Jeff Stiling played on the 1982 NCAA Champion Stanford team. In three years, Greenwich had moved from' doormats' to parity with the best in interscholastic water polo.
The next major step forward came in 1978 when the New England Association of Preparatory Schools permitted GHS to compete for the first time in the New England Interscholastic Tournament. In 1982, after four years of finishing either second or third in the eight-team tournament, the Big Red won its first New England title, defeating Phillips Exeter Academy in overtime, 13-12. This put an end to Exeter's permanent grip on the league trophy.
Initiated in the late 1970's, the All-American program for water polo had its first Cardinal member in 1980 in Jim Lewis, who was an exceptional two-year first team selection. Since this inauguration to the A-A program, Greenwich has never failed to have an honoree included in the Eastern quota of the team. The 2004 team placed FOUR on the AA honor role: Peter Davis & Andrew Trepp on the first team, Will Smith on the second team, and Charles Baker on the fourth.
In 1983, the U.S. Naval Academy sponsored its first interscholastic tournament, which, beginning in 1985 became an annual affair. In '84 and '85 the team ventured as far West as Canton, Ohio where it won the Canton Cup in six game sweeps of Ohio high school teams. But the lack of significant competition coupled with the 500-mile distance convinced us to drop that westward venture. (The only team to venture further than Ohio was the 1999 squad which flew to Ann Arbor, Michigan for a season kick-off tournament.) Also, in 1985, in response to the need of our southerly and westerly neighbors for a season-closing tournament, Villanova hosted the first Eastern Interscholastic Championship Tournament. With Greenwich wedged neatly between the two areas, this gave us the New England and Eastern Tournaments to close out our yearly schedule. But it was not long before our welcome in the New England 'Blue Blood' prep school circuit was worn out. As the public school intruders from the south began to dominate the proceedings, and, as the number of northeastern prep schools playing the sport increased, a movement was mounted to kick GHS out of the New Englands. Meanwhile, the Eastern Tournament was moved on the calendar and placed in conflict with the New England championships. In '89, forced to choose between the two, Greenwich, in an act of good faith, chose the weaker New England event. But in the spring of 1990, the prep school athletic directors officially closed their tanks, kicking GHS out of its tournament. Greenwich turned southwest to make the Easterns the championship team finale.
With the combination of more facilities and the sport's growth, the Eastern coaches, in 1990, enlarged the year-ending tournament to two levels (based solely on record) and for 1991 to three levels. Thus, GHS had the opportunity to place its varsity team in the championship division and its large number of younger players in Band C level tournaments. In 1995, largely in response to the growing disparity between the level of play at public and private schools, Easterns was again re-organized. With three divisions - High School, Prep School and Club/Open - Greenwich was assured a berth in the high school tournament, with a second entry in the Club/Open division if the clubs did not fill the spots. The three divisional winners and the high school runner-up, completing a 'Final Four', would move on for an overall Eastern Interscholastic Championship.
After 15 years, the Big Red Water Polo Club officially became a varsity program in the 1989 season. One of the most highly regarded schoolboy teams in the East, our competition had long marveled at the paradox of our success and the lack of formal recognition by our own school. Eventually, the concerns over grade re-organization (bringing the 9th graders to GHS) and vocal parental booster support combined to bring about the team's long overdue inclusion in the Cardinal varsity family.
Throughout the last two decades of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st, the Greenwich High School Water Polo Team has been a group of 40-plus students completing a full "Varsity A", "Varsity B", and "Junior Varsity" schedule. The team boasts one of the most outstanding records of success of any team in the school. In its final seven appearances at the New Englands, the Big Red won five championships. After its return to Easterns in 1990, it won two consecutive Eastern titles. Winning both the 1995 High School and Overall titles in the re-organized format for the Eastern Championships, the Cardinals returned in '96 and '97 to successfully defend the High School Division title, while failing to win the Overall Championship both years. After coming up short of either title for three years, Greenwich won the Eastern High School Division in 2001 & 2002, falling to the Navy Aquatic Club in both Overall Championship games. In 2003 & 2004, the Big Red was able to power its way to both titles.
Annually, GHS players are selected for the All-Eastern and All-American teams. Its players are scattered among the college ranks. GHS is one of the few Eastern schools to crack the 'lockout' of Eastern players by coaches of California collegiate teams. Cardinal grad Jeff Stiling played on an NCAA champion Stanford team and continued to star on the San Francisco Olympic Club. Carl Swan (1986) captained UC at Santa Barbara where Tom Cernier (1989) was also a starter. Reid Particelli (1997), after being red-shirted for a year, became the starting holeman for the Gauchos. At Pepperdine, Edgar Field (1987) earned a position as goalie. Twin brothers Jared & Taylor Kiefer (1998) both became starters for Claremont College, where Jared earned all league honors as a senior and Taylor was a team captain.At neighboring Pomona, Matt Mester (1998) played a key role on their team, which upset Claremont during his freshman year. In 2003, Mark Canner becomes the first GHS grad to play for the Whittier College team. Field Garthwaite, a 2004 GHS graduate, became an instant starter at Pomona-Pitzer; and while classmate Joe Cosentino was red-shirted his first year at the University of Southern California, he has worked his way into the starting line-up of the highly ranked Trojans.
Back East, Dan McCauley (1981) was our first Bucknell Bison. When Sloan Broderick and Tim Nesvig (both 1992) joined Chris Retzler (1989) and Sean Tierney (1991) at Bucknell, all four started for the Bisons. Retzler, Tierney and Nesvig all served as captains. In his final season, Nesvig was selected to the first team of the col1egiate All-East squad; Broderick received honorable mention. At graduation, Nesvig was honored with the prestigious Christy Mathewson Award as Bucknell's top male athlete. Halsey Otto, Joe Courtney and Matt Lutz (all 1995s) continued the Bucknell connection, with Matt Lutz a three-year starter.
Jim Lewis (1982) was our first Richmond Spider, where he set records in both swimming and water polo. Now, Jim is recognized as one of the finest polo referees in the country, and was selected to work on the officiating staff for the '96 Olympics in Atlanta. Ted Morris (1986) and Tim Selby (1990) not only played but also helped to coach the Spiders. Will Thomas (1992) was a dominant force for Richmond from the beginning of his freshman year and was team captain in 1995. Pat Budden (1997), a four-year veteran at Richmond is our most recent link in the Spider web. Pat was a key starter in Richmond's march to the National Collegiate Club Championship in 1999. At Washington & Lee, Derek DeVries (1991) was the '94 captain while Peter Sorensen (1993) was their 'most outstanding player for three consecutive years and served as captain in '96. Todd Peters (1994) completed a two-year stint as the Water Polo coach at W & L. Jon Miller is the only Cardinal to play at UMass, where he set team scoring records as a Minuteman. When Tom Beam (1994) went to Slippery Rock, he renewed a connection with 'The Rock' dating back to Ken Bridge (1982) who served as their starting goalie for three years.
2005 graduate Charles Baker is the most recent GHS grad to become a midshipman at the US Naval Academy. He follows in the footsteps of 1998 Captain Adrian Rawn, who was a four-year letterman at the Academy and a member of the US Junior National Team, playing an important role in the team's gold medal performance at the Junior Pan-American Games. Adrian also helped the Academy capture the Eastern Collegiate title and earn a trip to the NCAA Final Four. Eric Block (1984), O.J Block (1985) and Ken Johansen (1984) all played for Eastern Championship teams at the Naval Academy. Johansen set the Academy's record for goalie saves. At other levels, GHS graduates have taken over their collegiate club programs and handled administrative and coaching duties while playing - Charlie McCarthy (1984) at Penn State, Keith Payne (1986) at Bowdoin, Doug Thompson (1996) at the University of Vermont (where 2004 graduate Ian Sotzing is now playing for him) and Mac Clonan (2000) at Wesleyan University.
Johns Hopkins and Georgetown are two colleges where GHS players have more recently had a major impact. Ed Scott (1995) was elected captain for both his junior and senior year at Hopkins. Tim Lovett (1996) followed in his footsteps, and served as a co-captain with Ed in '98, and was re-elected for his senior year, the fall of 1999. Paul Ramaley (1999) was a three-year starter at Hopkins and their captain in 2002. In 2001, he was joined by Mac Sanford and in 2002, by both Win Bates and Billy Irvine. In 2005, Bates became a captain and Peter Davis (2005) became a Blue Jay who is starting as a freshman - and Hopkins has soared into the NCAA top 20. John Willey and Ed Mendelsohn (both class of 1996) were major factors in the improvement of the Georgetown University club team. John was the leading scorer; Ed, its top two-meter defender. Currently, Gian Kull (2003) is playing for the Hoyas. Two members of the GHS class of 2000 moved on to college club teams that the Big Red frequently plays. Matt Derr (2000) was a starter and leading player at Dartmouth, while Mac Clonan (2000) was one of the scoring leaders at Wesleyan. Opening a new frontier, Paul D'Avino, '01, was the first Greenwich player to become a member of the Brown University Bruins, for whom Paul started all four years and was a captain his senior year. Two of the 2002 captains, John Bourne and Thomas Payton, both joined Paul to make significant contributions before their ‘early retirement' from the Brown team.
Of special note is John Loughran (1985) who was a great player on the last of the outstanding Loyola of Chicago teams. While at Queens College, John was twice (1994 & 1995) named Eastern Collegiate Coach of the Year. There he lifted his team from the depths of Eastern polo to win the Northern Championship (defeating UMass) and to finish as Eastern Runners-Up in 1996. In 1997 he became water polo coach at California's Loyola Marymont, where he is currently recruiting Greenwich players. He was the NCAA's 2001 Women's Water Polo Coach of the Year, and currently serves on the national rules committee. During the 2003-2004 college year, both the Men's Team and the Women's team made it to the NCAA Final Four, with the women finishing in the runner-up position after defeating Stanford at Stanford in a one-goal thriller in the semi-final game.
Today, GHS players look toward the best collegiate programs. They are highly regarded and actively recruited by them. A team created in 1974 to fill the vacuum in the fall schedule of high school swimmers' lives now stands tall as one of GHS's finest varsity programs as well as one of the East's most outstanding polo programs. In fact, the 28-0 1990 Cardinal team was widely acknowledged at that time to be the best team ever seen in the East and a team that many felt could compete successfully against its California counterparts. It was not until 2000, however, that a Cardinal squad could boast beating a California high school opponent. The Big Red team twice defeated La Canada HS en route to the championship of the Annapolis Water Polo Classic. The 1991 edition, with just a single early season loss, was not far behind the '90 group. The undefeated 1995 team could also make legitimate claims as the best ever. At 28-0, it matched its 1991 predecessor victory for victory. And with a top-eight finish at the 1993 Junior Olympics representing "The Big Red Cardinal Water Polo Club," they were the first group to formally put Greenwich polo on the national map. Undefeated and with its 35 wins a new high water mark, the 2003 Cardinal team could also stake out its claim as the program's best. The success of its captains Joe Cosentino and Field Garthwaite on their California collegiate teams - USC and Pomona-Pitzer, respectively - brings credibility to their claim. In 2005, Joe became the second GHS player to play on an NCAA championship team, as several Greenwich fans got to see him play in the NCAA tournament, which was held, for a change, in the east, at Bucknell University.
The success of the Big Red program continued right on with the 2004 team. With 35 victories and both Eastern titles, is also a contender for the bragging rights as the mythical number one Cardinal team. Co-Captain Peter Davis moved right on to Johns Hopkins to become a freshman starter, supporting seniors Bates, Irvine & Sanford. And another graduating senior All-American, Chuck Baker, went to the Naval Academy, where he now plays a regular role. Not to be outdone, the 2005 team was even more dominant (though it did lose one game, playing man-down for nearly a half), winning 34 games, including two victories over the Baker led Navy Plebes. Captain & first-team All-American Will Smith joined the 2005 NCAA runner-up team at Stanford, where he is currently being red-shirted in preparation for his new role as a two-meter defender. And fellow captain Ryan Anderson has already made it into the starting line-up at Claremont-McKenna. Three other All-Americans from that team - first team selection Richie Hyden, third team member Andrew Cosentino and fifth team honoree Jeremy Selbst return to lead the 2006 edition of the Cardinal polo team.