"They are responsible for 95 percent of the success of this program over the past four years," says Harvard Water Polo Coach Steve Pike of the team's two senior co-captains, Dave Fasi and Steve Munatones.
"We would have won most of the games without them, but they have brought so many things besides their skills: the knowledge that they have imparted to their teammates and the work to establish Harvard water polo for an awful long time," Pike adds.
They are the Crimson's crown prince and clown prince. Fasi--the all-time leading scorer in Harvard history--is the star. Heavily recruited out of high school in Honolulu and good enough to start for any team in the country, he is the man the Crimson looks to when it wants to put the ball in the net.
Munatones is the working man who laughs as hard as he trains. The reigning world long-distance swimming champion, the Californian is the hardest worker on the team. His contributions go beyond the statistical fact that he is the Crimson's second all-time leading scorer. He is a great hustler who plays strong defense and leads the counter-attack.
The first thing about Munatones, however, is the comic relief he provides. Even before the Crimson's biggest games this season, Munatones was getting the Harvard sqaud loose with a variety of jokes--for instance, by going to the pre-game meeting with the Brown captain before one game wearing a child's inflatable toy wrapped around his face.
Underneath, Munatones is an intense athlete who competes in one of the world's most grueling sports--long-distance swimming. During the summer he swims up to eight hours a day, six days a week to train for races as long as 30 miles.
As a freshman, he didn't know what to expect when his first contact with the team was a letter from Pike explaining that he would see what kind of shape the players were in by making them run four miles and swim two on the first day of practice. "I practically sprinted the whole first four miles and left everybody in the dust," he recalls. "Assistant Coach Peter Lansbury yelled, 'Wow, did you see Yifter run?' in reference to the Ethiopian sprinter Miruts Yifter who won the 5000 and 10,000 meters in the Olympics that summer. He is a small, dark-complexioned guy, too. to this day half the people I know introduce me as Yifter."
That stamina paid off two years ago at Lake Windermere, 300 miles north of London, where Munatones swam the 18 1/2-mile course in six hours and 10 minutes to claim the world championship. He plans to compete on the professional long-distance circuit after graduation . Last summer he had opportunities to earn money swimming in long-distance races but could not compete because of the Ivy League's stringent eligibility requirements.
This is one of the many sacrifices that the pair has had to make to play at Harvard. When they were admitted the sport was still played on a club level, and the quality of the team was a far cry from its present national caliber.
"When I was thinking of schools in my senior year," says Fasi, "I thought of Stanford water polo and Brown water polo. Harvard water polo was a contradiction in terms." Despite a personal visit (by the Stanford coach) to see him play in his home of Honolulu, Fasi chose Cambridge and contemplated retirement from the sport.
Having decided against playing on a club level he was shocked to get a note during a calculus exam near the end of his senior year saying that Harvard water polo had been promoted to varsity status. "I was all of a sudden so psyched to play again that I didn't finish the test," Fasi says, "I just kept reading the note over and over.
"I have no regrets," he adds. "Sometimes, though, I think about how it would have been if I had gone to Stanford. They have won two national championships in the last three years. It has been really enjoyable these four years to contribute so much to a team. It makes it all worth while helping to turn Harvard into a national contender."
Fasi stayed for one more season this year, although his advanced standing status would have allowed him to graduate last June. "I liked hanging around," he says. "One year wouldn't make that much difference in the real world."
The captains have had to do a lot more than put the ball into the net to give Harvard its recent success. Water polo is a level two sport and receives little support from the Department of Athletics. the captains have to spend lots of time trying to generate funds, dealing with the Department and getting equipment.