Spirited Goalie Carries on Legacy

Take a look at the Harvard men’s water polo team’s lineup and something clearly stands out–other than a few players from Eastern Europe or New England, the Crimson’s roster is remarkably dominated by Californians.

“There’s something about the team, the fact that most of us have the shared experience of not being from east coast places,” goalie Nikhil Balaraman said. “We can commiserate in the snow and all that terrible stuff that none of us had seen before.”

Balaraman is a senior originally from the San Diego area, who despite the drastic change in weather, has established himself as an important part of the water polo team here at Harvard. That said, he doesn’t limit his play to sports. Balaraman and his roommate showed off their philanthropic sides by offering their services as a package deal at Kirkland’s Date Auction last night.

But back to the pool, where Balaraman works on a different game.

While Balaraman admits this season isn’t going quite as planned, head coach Erik Farrar points out that the keeper’s play has been one of the bright spots.

“He’s been a big part of the positive things that have been going on this season, and we’re hoping for a big finish to his senior year,” Farrar said in regards to the goalie.

These kinds of commendations are especially notable considering the shoes that Balaraman and sophomore teammate Alexandre Popp were asked to fill as the fall season began. The two are taking the place of one of the Crimson’s most storied water polo players, Jay Connolly, who graduated as part of the Class of 2009.

“The thing about Jay is that, if we’d had a better season last year—not even a winning season, say something close to a .500 season—Jay would’ve been All-American. Without question,” Balaraman stated with confidence.

Connolly was known by his teammates for an inspiring work ethic and a silent leadership that all respected.

“You always tried to emulate what he did, because you wanted to been seen in that light,” Balaraman reflected. “It was like, ‘Oh if Jay can do it, we should be able to do at least half of that.’ He’s kind of ridiculous.”

Teammates and coaches alike recognize that Balaraman has stepped up to the bar that players like Connolly set at impressive heights.

“To have a keeper like Jay, who is the man, no doubt leaves a bit of a shadow,” Farrar said. “Nikhil has worked really hard the past couple years and has done a good job of filling that spot.”

“Jay and Nikhil play two very different styles, but are both great goalies,” co-captain Egen Atkinson added. “[Nikhil] has come up with some huge games for us in the goal. He’s a more vocal leader for the defense.”

In reference to his teammates’ praise regarding his leadership, Balaraman says it just part of the job as a keeper.

“A lot of playing goalie, its mentally being able to not let what happens get to your head,” he said. “You’re the last guy there for your teammates so you think, ‘I just want to make this stop so they have the opportunity to go score a goal.’”