"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.
"I have to depend on them" says Pike, who rushes to Blodgett after finishing his regular job. "Sometimes it is the most I can do to show up half an hour late for practice."
"I'd say they can be as opposite as you can imagine." Pike says. "Steven is almost like comic relief. David is Mr Under Control." About Munatones: "They don't come any nicer. Steve's a real gentleman. He is more sensitive and introspective than he is given credit for. He is one of the few people I know who is considerate without thinking about it. He's very organized and willing to do the dirty work. He leads by example.
"David is the type who makes friends easily. He is incredibly extroverted. He is, in many ways, the charismatic type of leader. His concern is for the team as a group."
The two are handicapped in the pool by their size. Fasi, 5-ft., 8-in. and 155 pounds, is slightly bigger. Munatones said in an interview that no matter how big he said he was, Fasi would claim to be an inch bigger and 10 pounds heavier, so he declined to comment. Fasi, indeed, says his cohort stands about 5-ft., 7-in. and weighs 145 pounds.
Fasi, despite his small stature, has developed the reputation as a dirty player. "I don't think I'm a dirty player, just very physical," he responds. "In the hole (the crowded area in front of the goal) I have to play against 200-pound goons. I never start the game thinking I am going to play dirty. But if someone cheap shots me, you have to hit back twice as hard so that they learn to respect you... Now people are apologizing to me, 'Sorry, I didn't mean that Dave'" he laughs. "A links apology never hurt in water polo."
In Their Faces
These days other teams try to defend against just the two of them with sensetimes unexpected results. "UMass has a Fasi defense when they are a man down. They try not to let me touch the ball. But we scored every time they tried it."
Munatones, too, has changed his approach to scoring this year. "I score the majority of my goals in the tough games," he says. "I don't have to score anymore against UMass and Yale."
Both gained personal recognition as members of the Junior National Team as 18-year-olds, and as competitors in the National Sports Festivals in Syracuse in 1982 and Colorado Springs in 1983.
Munatones liked the events because of "the free stuff we got," but also because of the enjoyment he got from meeting different types of athletes. "Water polo players were the most outgoing there. Water polo has a rugby mentality. Every one is a cool dude."
If the usual tone of the squad is sarcastic and joking, the players turn serious when reflecting on the contributions of their two captains.
"Steve is one of the funniest people I have ever met," says sophomore Rob Strauss. "He is also really efficient. He gets so incredibly funny. He sings, bounces his head off the wall, he keeps everyone loose. Fasi is Joe Cool, but he is a really nice guy. They are the program. I'll miss them both as friends and athletes."
John Sandler seems to sum it up best. "Two of the best people I've ever met in my life...When they graduate, Harvard won't just lose two very fine athletes, but two very fine individuals."