Three weeks ago, as the Harvard water polo team not in the stands at Brown's Smith Swim Center awaiting a contest with the Bruins, the talk turned to media guides. And, in particular, to the question of why Harvard prints nothing comparable to the informative "Brown University Water Polo 1962 Guide."
Coach Steve Pike told his players they were welcome to raise the money needed if they were interested. But most of the squad was just amused at the thought of seeing a lengthy profile on Coach Pike, or photos and short descriptions of its own top players.
A few hours later Brown routed the Crimson, 14-4, before 100 fans--the second of its four straight wins over Harvard so far this year.
Why are certain schools perennially strong in particular sports? To a great extent, it has to do with the programs behind the actual teams. Limited resources mean not all of a school's teams can even try to be national powers, so if it wants to be a major force in my sport, it decides to focus on certain programs--like Columbia soccer, Cornell hockey or Penn basketball.
This may seem a truism to some, but it explains how Brown achieved a preeminent position in New England water polo. Brown made the decision to become a water polo powerhouse in 1974, when it gave its squad varsity status.
Since then the Bruins have won eight New England titles, the latest nailed down by a 15-9 win over Harvard last Sunday. In fact, they haven't lost a single game to regional opponents since 1975.
Harvard, at least, has made Brown work for it victories. The usual pattern when the two meet is a close game for a quarter or two, after which the Bruins pull away. That's because the Crimson, ranked second in N.E. throughout this season, has a starting lineup that can just about match Brown's but when both teams go to their benches. Brown has the edge.
"They come out really hard in every game against us," says Brown Co-Captain Ted Schlegel of his rivals. "But towards the end they don't come out with the aggression they're capable of in the first half." He also notes that "a lot of teams only play well with their starting six [swimmers besides the goalie]. We're good at rotating our subs smoothly into play."
But, because they stay tantalizingly close to the Bruins for about 10 minutes each game, the Crimson aquamen don't see their nemeses as unbeatable. According to Harvard Co-Captain Dave Fasi, "Brown--you may be surprised to hear this--I don't think they have really remarkable players, like what you might find in California," where Brown is considered just another contender trying to overthrow NCAA champion Stanford. "They just have good, solid players who really know how to play together."
Interestingly, the pattern of even play followed by letdown repeats itself each time Brown has the bull. The big guns, especially 6-ft., 2-in. Mike McDiurmid and 6-ft., 5-in. David Todhunter, work the bull around the perimeter unhindered by Crimson across long enough to block their posses, holding back while the shot clock runs down... until one of them fires a cannonbull on not.
By contrast, the Crimson attack involves less suspense and more action. It moves the bull to the "hole," the area in front, of the goal, where a "hole-setter" finds the open man for a fast shot It's not uncommon to see Fasi trying to work the hold guarded by Todhunter, nine inches and 50 pounds more massive; even when the bigger Dave Chan hole-sets, the Crimson relies on quickness and anticipation to which a shot post Brown goalie Lars Enstrom.
The showdowns involving 14 of the best water polo players in New England are exciting. But the difference is still depth; it means a lot that Brown can afford to use an honorable mention All-American, sophomore Steve Ennis, as a sub. To see why Brown has more star players than it can put in the pool at once, you have to look again at the program, not the team itself.
Brown Coach Ed Reed clearly has the knack for program developing, something separate from the actual activity of coaching Besides his success in training top-notch players, there have been various signs that polo is taken seriously at Brown; Reed is president of the New England Water polo Association, he has toughened the schedule to include games against California teams, he brought the NCAA, championship journey to Brown in 1977 and, of course, he helped put out that media pamphlet.
None of the None of those things in themselves makes the Bruins puss or school prospects that Brown is a great place to go for competitive water polo, Forget about high-powered recruiting; the world is out on Brown polo so that the California high school stars know to consider Brown if they plan to playin college. By contrast, neither of Harvard's Co-Captains. Rich Guerra and Fasi, chose Harvard for its polo program.
Harvard switched from club to varsity level in 1980, and it's the need to play catch-up that has kept Harvard second to Brown. There have been no special signals sent out that water polo is any different from the other non-glamor teams that win in the obscurity of Harvard. As a result, attempts to recruit have had little luck: Couch Pike tells how one year he wrote to 18 application who had some polo experience to tell them about the program. Of those 18 three ware accepted; of those three two chose Suuford and one went to Yale.
Show but Sure
Slowly, though, Harvard has started to project the image of a serious water program. A strong crop of freshmen showed up this year and Coach pike has seen more interest among a few high school players he's met pike knows "we're just four of five players away from being able to stay even with." Most important, notes Fasi, "Brown is worried. Guys like Lars [Enstrom] come up to me at games and ask who's graduating next year."
If both teams become less sure Brown will win every time, than the Bruins' winning streak will really be in danger. Harvard may get another shot at Brown at this weekend's Eastern Championships. But whether or not the rivals play again this year, the increased attractiveness of the Harvard program ensures that there will be a steady redressing of the balance of power in New England water polo. Just one win against Brown is all it will take.