By Gianna Addario Staff Writer
The Salem News
---- — There’s no denying the level of excellence that the St. John’s Prep athletic program bestows on its athletes. From swimming to basketball, soccer and fencing — the Eagles are top-notch competitors in virtually every athletic endeavor.
Add to that list perhaps one of the least known programs at St. John’s Prep: its water polo team.
The program is one of a kind on the North Shore, as there are no other public or parochial schools with varsity or club teams in the area. The Eagles have five water polo matches during the fall season, all on the road, with the closest being 45 minutes away at Phillips Andover and the longest being a two-hour bus ride.
While St. John’s will hold practices before school totalling three-and-a-half or four hours each week, the schools that they play against often triple that practice time while playing as many as 25 games a season.
“We mostly play boarding schools with kids from all over the country,” said senior captain Joe Crateau, who has nine goals through the first two games for the Eagles. “Some weeks we practice three days; other weeks we’ll add in a Saturday practice. I tried to hold captain practices during the summer, mostly running drills to get the team in shape. We don’t nearly get as much practice as other teams we face, though.”
Normally, the kids starting out in the program have little to no experience in water polo.
“When I first started as a freshman I hadn’t played before,” Crateau explained. “I knew one of the captains on the team at the time, and he told me about the program. I did some work that summer at water polo camps that taught the basic skills.”
There are 46 players in the entire program between the freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams. This year’s varsity squad carries 16 kids, with seven (including a goalie) playing in the pool during the games. There are starting players, but there are occasional substitutions much like in soccer and hockey.
The senior leadership is instrumental every year to the team. With captains Crateau and Jim O’Donnell, and fellow seniors Rory Cawley and Justin Farmer leading the way, the older teammates really help the new members learn, adapt and thrive in the team environment.
Last year the Eagles finished at 3-2 and though they dropped their first two matches this season, it’s more about the experience than the win total. The team is made up of mostly swimmers from the winter season and first-timers to the sport.
“I track our progress through learning the game and watching instincts grow over the season,” said head coach Tony Padvaiskas, who has guided the Eagles’ swim team to multiple state championships. “Wins and losses are kept, but I’m usually the first introduction to the sport for many of the boys. So learning the sport is my biggest concern.”
Interest in the program has risen this year after the Summer Olympics aired in August. The number of freshmen trying out for the team has risen from an average of four to 18. For the most part, though, it’s swimmers using the water polo season to get in shape for the winter.
“The camaraderie and toughness of water polo absolutely help the swim and dive program,” Padvaiskas added. “Kids get in great shape before the season and learn a team sport that’s very different and difficult for many swimmers.
“It also helps the boys get into a routine at the beginning of the school year. Waking up at 5 a.m. for 6 a.m. practice while maintaining great grades takes discipline on their part.”
WATER POLO RULES 1. Each team has six field players and a goalie in the pool. 2. Field players can only use one hand to touch the ball; goalies two hands. 3. Games consist of 7-minute quarters. 4. The object of the game is to score by placing the ball completely in the goal. Players may move the ball by swimming or passing. 5. Teams may substitute after a goal is scored, during a timeout, or during the play from the ejection area. 6. Each team receives three timeouts and one 20-second timeout per game. 7. Shots blocked out of bounds by defensive players result in the defensive team receiving possession. If a defender used two hands to block a shot, the offensive team receives a penalty shot.