It's difficult to have a discussion about Texas boys' prep water polo without at least some mention of the steadily excellent program at St. Mark's School in Dallas. Runners up in 2011, the Lions enter this weekend's TISCA championships seeded first in the North Region, and look to upend undefeated Strake Jesuit in pursuit of another state title. Coach Mihai Oprea, appointed to his position at St. Mark's in 1997, spoke with TWp about his team's prospects for this weekend's TISCA Championships in Austin, and shared some history of water polo in Texas.
* What did you expect from your team before the season, and which Texas teams did you think would be good?
We have a very young team, so my expectations before the season were all about learning, gaining experience, and building team chemistry. We knew there will be some good programs in Texas this year, particularly Strake Jesuit and Clear Creek. They both have experienced players and good coaching staff.
* You lost earlier this season to Strake Jesuit [Houston]. Do you consider them the favorites for the TISCA championship? Are you looking forward to a rematch?
Yes, we did lose to them at home at the beginning of the season. They are clearly the favorites to win this year, they have a starting line up of six seniors and a junior. A very experienced team, and a motivated team which did not lose a single game this year. Even though we are much younger (eight total freshmen and sophomore on our final roster), and our record includes five losses, we are definitely looking forward to the rematch. I just hope we'll win our first two games for the opportunity to play them again.
Polo at St. Mark's could be told in two chapters: the 70s & 80s chapter [under Coach Stutsman], and the current. The 70s were the pioneer years for the sport in the State of Texas, mostly college teams, and a few high school teams from Houston and San Antonio. Our players and coaches had to travel to Houston every weekend for games since there were no other teams in Dallas. They were victorious at the State Championship in 1975 and 1977, a great achievement. The program was dropped in the mid 80s. The new program started in 1999, and it took five years to gain (again) varsity status. The highlights of the new program include the first State qualifying team in 2001, a State Title in 2009, a 3rd place in 2010, and a 2nd place in 2011. Another great achievement of this city was the expansion of our sport due to the great efforts of George Fenton, Houston Hall (a St. Mark's graduate), Frank Connor, and Joe Linehan. We have over 30 schools playing polo in this area, amazing. Our biggest rival in town is Southlake Carroll, a team which we've played in the Regional Championship final each year since 2002. The other one would be Denton, a strong program which produced a team that placed 4th in the 2010 State Championship.
* Which players from St. Mark’s have played at the collegiate level?
Many of our players went to play in college, some of them making team captains (Penn, Claremont, etc.). One of our goalkeepers [Michael Shashoua] was part of the USC program which won four NCAA titles in a row.
* Has St. Mark’s played outside of Texas in past Spring seasons? Any plans to do so in 2013?
Yes, we travel each Spring Break to Park City (Utah) and we play almost every high school in the area, plus college teams. We are planning our trip for 2013 in Dubrovnik, Croatia.