The Poseidons of Niles West: Boys’ Water Polo

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The Poseidons of Niles West: Boys’ Water Polo

By Vinny Kabat

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One of the school’s newer sports, water polo, is an activity that has grown in popularity each of the four years its been in existence at Niles West. Girls’ water polo is making strong strides in its first year, but as of late the bulk of the buzz regarding water polo has been about the boys, who have opened their season in thunderous fashion, with a red hot 13-4 record.  The boys are coached by Jon Przekota, who has been passionate about the game of water polo for the majority of his life and the love of the game has been shared throughout his family.

“I was a swimmer and I wanted something a bit more exciting. My coach introduced the sport my friends and I. My brothers–I’m the oldest of six boys–everyone of us played water polo, 4 of us got water polo scholarships to college, two of my brothers were collegiate all america. One of my brothers played on the junior national team for a while, and it became a family thing,” he said.

He began his water polo journey in second grade and routinely hit the pool throughout grammar school. Then, in high school Przekota played on a men’s senior water polo team  as well. At the same time, he played for his high school, St. Patrick, and helped lead the squad to a second place finish in state his senior year. His hard work and stellar play in the pool earned him first team all state honors in both his junior and senior years of high school. Naturally, he was bound to make the sport he loved a part of his future.

“I’ve been involved with water polo[at Niles West] for 3 years now,” Przekota said. “In college, I went to Iona college in New York on a water polo scholarship. When I was on the team we were in the top 25 in the nation. After college, I started coaching right away.”

And Przekota’s vast range of experience in the game of water polo has helped the team’s explosive growth this season, according to junior team member Max Yusim. 

“We have put an emphasis on our defense specifically and I also think coach Przekota is challenging us to work and play harder than ever,’ he said.

Though the team has come on strong in the beginning of the season, Przekota is focused on where he’d like the team to be come season’s end.

“Our goal is to win conference this year and to hopefully get to the sectional final, which will put us one game away from state. [If] we work hard, by the end of the year, we might have an outside shot of making state,” he said. “So, for our fourth year of having varsity water polo at Niles West, the fact that we are legitimate contenders for conference and that we are sneaking in to the conversation for sectional championships really shows how hard the kids have been working and how far we’ve come.”

Playing water polo is extremely physically demanding, having to tread water for extensive periods of time and execute an offensive attack on the opponent while staying afloat. In addition, many team members have rigorous academic schedules and are involved with multiple extracurricular activities within the school, making time management skills a must have for water polo players. On his team’s time management skills, Przekota observed, “If you look at almost our whole varsity team, I have [senior] George enwia, [juniors] Matt lefler, Maz Yusim, [who]are all in AP classes, national honor society, and have good grades. They get that balance, are great with it and are outstanding contributors to our team, too.”

So, if the sport is so physically demanding and takes up so much time for players that are already very busy within the school, what makes them want to get back into the pool every day and play such a rigorous sport?

“Getting the recognition and respect from the rest of the state as well as the opportunity for our team to make the state tournament for the first time in team history is a great motivator,” said Yusim, who has been one of the team’s leading goal scorers this season. “The feeling of scoring not only gives me a personal energy boost, but it also feels good to know that I did something to really help the team win.”

 Przekota also thinks that once athletes get into the pool to play water polo, they likely won’t want to get back out.

“It’s the hardest sport you’re ever going to play, but it’s also the most rewarding and addicting sport you’re ever going to play. The intensity around the game…it’s kinda like hockey or basketball in a way in water,” he said. “You have to be in really good shape and put in a lot of time with double practices, long hours after school, and tournaments all weekend. At the end of the year, if you play water polo, it’s worth it because you really get to develop a tight bond with your teammates because of all the time and effort you’re putting in.”

Polo players at West are not the only people who get to experience the highs and lows of water polo, however. A nationally growing sport, more and more swimmers and other athletes are getting involved with the game, scholarships to play in college have seen an increase and the number of high schools that have water polo teams is steadily increasing. 

” I think we’re at an interesting point on the growth of water polo,” Przekota said. “It was a club sport all the way up until 2002 or 2003. Then it became an IHASA sport for the last 10 years. We’ve had a lot of growth. There’s about 90 boys teams and 75ish girls teams[in Illinois]. The problem is the growth right now is bigger than there are a lot of qualified people to coach and help teach the sport. So I think the people who are qualified and experienced enough to help mentor the coaches. I think we’re at a really big point right now where we really need to start working on developing coaches and teaching the sport instead of just being worried about trying to get teams.”

Though the growth of water polo nationally is remarkable, the Niles West boys water polo team’s main focus is achieving their goal of winning conference and making a run for a spot in state.

The boys will try to pave that path next on Tuesday, Apr. 22 as they take on conference rival Maine South at home, at 6 p.m.