At Malvern Prep and La Salle the sport makes a splash

John Knebels
Sports Columnist

Only two area Catholic high schools offer water polo as a varsity sport.

If you have ever been to a water polo contest, you probably wish there were more.

“It really is a great sport,” said Steve Duncheskie, a 1994 La Salle College High School graduate who became the school’s first-ever water polo coach in 2004 and hasn’t stopped coaching since. “It takes a lot of athleticism, but it’s more than that.

“It takes understanding the game. It takes knowing strategy. But when players become accustomed to knowing how to play, they love it.”

Jay Schiller offers precisely the same opinion. Like Duncheskie, Schiller is also the only coach his school’s program has ever had. In 2001, he helped jumpstart Malvern Preparatory School’s program. Now in its 10th season, the Friars finished second in the Inter-Academic League and reached the Eastern Prep High School playoffs for the first time. {{more}}

Both Schiller and Duncheskie place a high premium on athletes who are willing to learn. If they don’t have that desire, it doesn’t matter how athletic they are.

“Since you are in the water for a long time, you obviously have to be a pretty good swimmer,” said Duncheskie. “But that doesn’t necessarily mean you will be a good water polo player any more than a tall person has to be a good basketball player or a fast, strong person has to be a good football player.”

Although Malvern has a slight advantage of being able to offer water polo to its sixth-through-eighth grade middle school students, neither school has the benefit of feeder programs or club teams that many of their public school counterparts do.

Instead, in most cases, it takes most of freshman year for a player to understand the many nuances that, while seemingly easy to master, actually can be quite confusing at first.

“It takes a little bit of time but as they start understanding the sport, their confidence grows,” Schiller said. “I’ll tell you something else. One of the many benefits of water polo is that these guys are in tremendous shape. By the time the season is over, they are pretty much physically ready to participate in any kind of sport.”

During the regular season, Malvern edged La Salle 9-8, in a riveting match that earned the respect of both adversaries. Since Malvern is not a member of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA), the two teams cannot meet in the post-season.

In the meantime, however, both teams have been enjoying stellar success. Through Nov. 1 Malvern was 24-6 and ranked fourth in the “A” spanision of the aforementioned Eastern Prep School tournament that begins against Washington, D.C.’s Gonzaga High School at New Jersey’s Lawrenceville High School.

The Friars have a 38-man roster and are led by seniors Mike McGinley, Will Grant, Ryan Flynn and Evan Strickland; junior assists leader Andrew Molloy and goalie Cole Steidle; and sophomore M.P. Salinas. Grant set a school record this year with 106 goals while McGinley has already broken his own school record for steals. He is also the school’s career leader in blocked shots.

“They’re great examples of guys who continued to get better,” said Schiller, who began playing water polo in 1976 and coaching the sport in 1983. “A lot of them use this as their second sport.”

La Salle’s 33-man contingent is highlighted by senior co-captain and leading goal scorer Ian Thompson, who tallied 12 goals in last weekend’s Pennsylvania Eastern Conference Championships. The Explorers placed fourth and thus qualify for the state tournament, which begins next week, for a second consecutive season.

Thompson’s scoring prowess is followed by juniors Eric Schultz and Tim Decker. Other starters include senior co-captain Chris Catalino, seniors Chris Nunnari and Will Galbally and junior goaltender Matt McCrudden.

Although water polo does not induce the same crowds as do some other sports, time will tell if the game continues to gain support across the scholastic landscape.

“Take a look at lacrosse,” said Duncheskie. “The sport started slow and just kept growing in popularity. I think water polo can be the same kind of story. In fact, it’s already starting.”

John Knebels can be reached at