The Harvard men's water polo team is heading to Italy for an unforgetable experience traveling and playing Italian club teams. GoCrimson.com will feature a running blog from student-athletes throughout their time there.
MAY 29 -- Thanks to several months of fundraising efforts, the Harvard men's water polo team is finally beginning its first international training trip!
This morning, we are concluding our pre-Italy practices and departing Boston for the warm and comfortable climate of the Genoa coast. The seven of us - myself, Ben, Colin, Blake, Dan, Joey and Vik - have dedicated the past week to prepare for games against some of Italy's prominent club teams. Building on a successful offseason of lifting and swimming, we endured some tough swim sets in the Mac pool (Blodgett is currently drained and under renovation) and continued to improve our team dynamic on defense and offense.
We focused on successful shooting under pressure, re-familiarizing ourselves with defensive formations, and above all effective communication. The excitement among the team and coaching staff is palpable, and for many of us this will be our first water polo trip overseas. Beyond enjoying the rich Italian culture and history, we are looking forward to bringing international recognition to Harvard Water Polo and gaining valuable experience in the pool.
Although the moment is bittersweet - this is the last time we will be led by our wonderful assistant coach, Jessi Wood - we are extremely thankful to our coaching staff and Friends of Harvard Water Polo for all the hard work that went into organizing this trip.
The next time you will here from us, we will be eating gelato in Milan...look out for the Harvard Crimson as we start our international debut!
May 30 -- After a long and tiring day of flying and sitting around in airports, we finally arrived in Milan this morning. We were welcomed at the airport by our guide, Serena, who had a surprise in store for us: another three-hour bus ride to the coast. However, there are definitely worse things in life than driving through the scenic Italian countryside.
We arrived at our destination in Genoa in the early afternoon, where we were treated to a delicious buffet feast of pasta, prosciutto, breads and cheeses. At this lunch we were greeted by former Harvard water polo captain Luka Babic '12, who came from Belgrade, Serbia, to visit and train with us for a few days. Afterwards we took a walking tour along the coastline of the city and were able to get our feet wet in the Mediterranean Sea for the first time.
We saw the ocean-water pool right at the side of the bay that is used by one of the professional teams around here, but it is currently empty because the sea water is too cold. When we returned to the hotel, we ate another delicious meal, but most of us were struggling to stay awake. We are all planning to catch up on sleep, since we have to be ready to begin training with a local team tomorrow. Everyone is very excited to get back in the pool and get some international experience under their belt!
May 31 -- Today we started the day off sightseeing around the northern outskirts of Genoa. Through the narrow pathways paired with the tall and colorful pink, and orange houses with green windows, I felt like I was on the set of a Jason Bourne action movie, and at any given moment Matt Damon would come bursting out the window in hot pursuit of a villain.
Today we followed these pathways that led to the cliffs where, on the edge of said cliff, stood a tall medieval castle. Then we walked through yet another fishing village with a small rock beach and mini cove, and up another narrow pathway where a beautiful church with stained glass in every window stood. This country engulfs you in its rich culture and personality so quickly you-at least I do-feel as though it's not real. It feels like something out of fairy tells. Although this is my first time out of the United States so you could say I'm a little culture shocked.
Next we ate a delicious lunch of chicken and homemade pasta and vegetables that tasted as fresh as a meal could get. After, we traveled south down to the coast to play out first scrimmage against Rari Nantes Bogliasco. Here the seven of us, and Luka Babic '12 played the club's division one 20 and under team. International water polo regulations state that games will be played in 30-meter water, five meters longer than US collegiate rules.
While this five meters may not seem like a lot, it really does make a difference. We played four 10 minute quarters (eight minute quarters in college) for the sake of practicing, and were able to hold our own against the talented Italian squad. Albeit it took a little time to get used to the longer pool, and physicality of European water polo, I can safely say we had a good showing today.
It was great to get back in the water with a group of talented individuals that can not only win in the United States, but also play with Italian club teams, some of the best in the world. We stayed after our scrimmage to watch the country's junior club championship semifinals. Afterward, we did more sightseeing around Bogliasco and the surrounding bays that seemed like they were straight off of postcards you get at tourist information centers. Finally, we ate an authentic meal of fresh fish, and pasta in the nearby fishermen's village with the ocean just yards away from the restaurant, and some of us got gelato on our walk back to the hotel.
June 1 -- This morning, with another delicious breakfast in our stomachs, we went back to the pool in Boliasco to scrimmage against Rari Nantes Boliasco again. We played a short scrimmage and then worked on 6-on-5 and 5-on-6. We specifically focused on communication on defense since effective communication will be a huge key to our success in the upcoming season.
After leaving the pool, we had a hearty meal of salami, ham and prosciutto sandwiches (for only 2 Euro!). From there, we went into Recco, where a boat took us to the San Fruttuoso Abbey, most famous for its statue of Jesus hidden underwater about 200 yards from shore. After touring the Abbey, we swam out and took turns trying to dive down far enough to touch one of the hands of the Jesus statue, which is supposed to be good luck.
Upon swimming back to shore, we caught a boat to the dock near our hotel and ate another delicious meal of meat, cheese, and pasta. Tonight we plan on getting a lot of rest in anticipation of more water polo tomorrow morning!
June 2 -- They say you don't really get to know someone until you have traveled with them internationally. I'm reminded of Bill Murray's advice to couples: if you're seriously considering getting married to someone, travel the world with them. Travel far, do things outside of your comfort zone. If at the end of the trip you still love each other, it's meant to be. In the same way, though our trip is not designed to serve a spousal relationship, it is indeed a test that strengthens the brotherhood between us.
With this in mind, the seven strong came to Italy to improve our game and to grow together as a family. Four days in and we've scrimmaged two teams, toured some nearby cities and eaten our fair share of gelato. Today, we scrimmaged a team from Quinto di Treviso. We emphasized 6v5 with them. It was particularly good training because our 6v5 was a weak point last season and training with the Italians kept a fast pace learning environment for us to improve.
After training and some fresh Italian pizza, we Californians did what Californians do best – tan. We took to the beach were we lied out in our speedos for nearly three hours. It felt so right. Next, we ventured back to the pool to watch the semifinals of the Italian Club Championships. In the first game, Bogliasco (the team we've been scrimmaging before today) beat Milan 13-6. The next game featured Rome and Naples. Though we didn't stay to watch the end of the latter game, Bogliascovery clearly established itself as the top club that we saw. It would not surprise me if they won the whole thing.
Finally, we bussed back over to the hotel and ate the most delicious lasagna I've ever had. We look forward to fun day tomorrow filled with Kayaking and training in Portofino.
June 3 -- Our fifth day on the Genoa coast proved to be the longest and most active one as of yet. Leaving the hotel at approximately 9 a.m., we did not return until just past midnight after fifteen fun-filled hours of traveling, swimming, kayaking, exploring, tanning, eating, training and much more – effectively absorbing the best of what this magnificently beautiful region of Italy has to offer.
The team took a morning train to Santa Margheritanear Portofino, where we explored the town a bit and went to a market to pick up the ingredients for our afternoon lunch. After applying our sunscreen somewhat sparingly in order to maximize tanning conditions, we walked at least two miles along the coast heading from Santa Margherita to Portofino. Directly above the sea for nearly the entire walk, we enjoyed some magnificent views of the turquoise water and private beaches as we made our way to a tiny section of beach where we relaxed, swam in the sea, and ate prosciutto, salami, and Swiss cheese sandwiches beforebeginning kayaking. We kayaked for over two hours and enjoyed some spectacular views including the famous Portofino harbor and much of the Ligurian coastline and open sea. After this excursion, we walked to Portofino where we were able to rest for a little while and take in the beauty of the picturesque fishing village as we waited for our bus.
After a long afternoon out in the sun, we journeyed from Portofino by bus and train to Camoglia where we were able to shop for fancy new shorts before beginning our training at around 8 p.m. with some current and former players of the local club – R. N. Camoglia. With the Under-20 team having been national champions just a year ago, we felt good in the water and played well against a much larger team that included some players from the Italian junior national team as well as one who had played on the senior team for many years until retiring just a year ago at the age of 35. I felt that our continuous focus and effort in the pool throughout the scrimmage was of special note, especially considering the long, exhausting day we had just enjoyed. After playing, we had a nice dinner with theCamoglia players at the restaurant/bar attached to their training complex.
Just past midnight we finally arrived back to our hotel. Though weary, we were in great spirits after a glorious, fully packed day. Tomorrow we have a day off from water polo in order to take in as much as we can from yet another brilliant Italian locale – Florence.
June 4 -- I want to start off with a little reflection of my own in regards to the trip so far. The food is amazing, the sights are beautiful, and the culture is wondrous. However, what appeals the most is the water polo – the main reason we came to Italy. As said before, the play is much more physical. This could be a little bit because coaches are making the calls in these scrimmages, and they want to let the game play out a bit more, or it might just be because it is how the game is played here.
Either way, I can say that I definitely enjoy it much more. Letting the work and skill of a player decide outcomes rather than waiting on a call from a referee, allowing players to wrestle a bit more and battle it out rather than calling any little touch, and giving everyone a chance to prove themselves a bit more rather than trying to balance everything with calls are all things that I feel are provoked and encouraged in this type of game. Despite being the smallest guy on this trip, if not one of the smallest in most pools, I love being able to play the sport to its complete value and potential. I also love the creativity of every Italian player. They make passes that appear out of nowhere to create easy goals, and they take shots that seem ill-advised but end up in the back of the net. Their play is certainly something we are all learning from, as well as adapting to in order to make it our own.
Now, on to the past day and its events. We began early this morning by traveling into Florence (Firenze). The outskirts of the town were covered with graffiti and rugged buildings. As we drove closer to the center, though, we saw the artistic components shine through. We got off the bus and immediately entered the Accademia Gallery, where we passed by the Harvard women's soccer team. After viewing some religious paintings and some of Michelangelo's unfinished sculptures, our tour guide brought us to the famous David. Though I am not exactly the most interested in art, in person, David was simply and undeniably magnificent. We continued on our tour to touch on places such as the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, visible from anywhere in Florence, Palazzo Vecchio, the old town hall, and the house of Medici, now full of galleries, before we split up to conquer the city on our own. The city itself was full of tourists, shops, and vendors. It was definitely our day to be tourists and enjoy the more well-known sights that Italy has to offer, instead of the beauty of its more residential areas that we have become accustomed to.
Overall, I think we can all agree that it was a relaxing day, but that we are all eager to get back into the water to work out and to continue learning and improving. With this day of rest, our muscles are rearing to get back into the water, and our sunburns have subsided so our full range of motion has returned. This trip is still far from over.
June 5 -- As we approach our last few days in Italy, my thoughts turn from enthusiastic anticipation to a reflection of the progress the team has made over the past week. In the pool, we have grown stronger as a unit and developed crucial communication skills that will allow us to act cooperatively against our competition back in the US. After becoming comfortable with the additional swimming demanded by the 30-meter course and the physical nature of Italian water polo, we are building confidence in our offensive capabilities and are in tune with each other during flexible defensive stops.
This evening we returned to R.N. Bogliasco for another extended scrimage with a team that recently defeated top clubs from Milan and Rome. Besides simply getting used to listening and calling for our fellow teammates, tonight it was evident that we have improved our awareness - not only of each other's position in the pool, but also of the gaps and weaknesses in our opponents defense due to our formidable 2-meter presence and well-timed drives. Seeing the team execute on offense with a calm and confident demeanor, despite Bogliasco's fast-paced game and considerable talent, I am reaffirmed that next season Harvard Water Polo will be unstoppable. Our once young, but skillful team has matured into one that has both the ability and the mindset to win an Eastern Championship.
Today, we also continued our immersion into Italian culture, traveling by bus to the capital of Liguria and one of the largest historical centers in all of Europe - Genoa. Guided by our trusted local, Serena, we meandered through an intricate maze of alleyways and avenues, spending time admiring grand palaces and beautiful cathedrals. However, a protest near the government headquarters and a defunct WWII bomb left ominously in one of the churches reminded us that we must strive to preserve these priceless cultural artifacts as well as enjoy them.
Finally, we celebrated Joey's 20th birthday with a delicious Italian ice cream cake, singing Happy Birthday (in both English and Polish), and reminiscing about the many laughs we've had since our arrival in Italy.
- Max Murphy
June 6 -- Our penultimate day in Italy was a little more relaxed than the others. In the morning, we had time to do some more exploring of Nervi, the city that we are staying in. We found a nice rocky beach to hang out on until we returned to the hotel for a few hours.
In the late afternoon, we headed to another small village called Sori, where we trained with the club ProRecco. The players on ProRecco were very quick and disciplined in all of their movements, which was a great learning experience for us. They were moving from point to point with great speed, and always looking to help out their teammates. Also, since we were playing on a 30-meter course with no substitutes, we had to practice much more offensive patience and try to find the best shot in the pool on each possession so that we wouldn't get countered going the other way. This patience, along with the willingness to work through the mental and physical adversity that fatigue presents, were the main takeaways from our time training with ProRecco. Tomorrow morning we will have another training session with the same team.
After the training was over, we sat down to our final "family dinner" with our team, the coaching staff, and our guide, Serena. We ate at a traditional Italian restaurant and were served an amazing four course meal. At dinner we all reflected on our favorite moments of the trip. While it was nice to remember some of the best times, the reality that the trip is drawing to a close also became more apparent. I know that we are all anxious to go home to our families, but we all wish that we could stay here for a little while longer.
- Ben Zepfel
June 7 -- On our last day in Italy we started off by playing ProRecco, arguably one of the best club teams in the world, for the second time. This was by far our best performance of the training trip. We played physical, intelligent and were extremely patient. Our passing was on point, we countered and anticipated very well, finished the majority of our offensive possession and communicated as a unit.
We have adopted a new style of 6-on-5 that we took from the Italian clubs we have been playing, and it has been quite successful. After playing Recco we headed to Pro Recco's outdoor pool where their professional team plays all their matches. The pool overlooks the bay and the entire western coastline of Italy. After viewing the pool we went to the annualRecco Surf Festival spending the rest of the day in the water and on the beach. Then we had a traditional Italian dinner back at the hotel. I know I'm speaking for the entire team when I say that we don't want to leave the Italian Riviera tomorrow.
- Blake Lee
June 8 -- Nervi to Milan, Milan to Newark, Newark to Boston, Boston to LAX and LAX to Newport Beach... For some of us, this day amounted to close to 28 hours of straight traveling. Given this travel time, it gave each one of us adequate opportunity to reflect on our amazing trip.
The Harvard women's soccer team toured many of the more popular places in Italy. They saw many of the more historical sights like the Sistine chapel and the Vatican. By comparison we spent much less time touring the standard tourist destinations. Notwithstanding our day in Florence, we focused on the smaller villages and beaches through the eyes of a local. Serena did an amazing job showing us some of the best places around. We explored many of the local beaches, ate at some of the best quality local restaurants and saw some of the most beautiful and often overlooked sights in Italy.
Through our experience in Italy, we also had the opportunity to compete against some of the best water polo teams in the world. These include Bogliasco, Camogli, and Pro Recco. Each in their own way gave us competition and a means by which to improve. Not only were their fundamentals superior to ours, but some of their techniques differed from our style of play. I've learned quite a lot simply from guarding Italian centers. They maneuver differently than most of the American centers (and centers from many other countries) that I've guarded. Not only will this improve my intellect in the guard position, but it adds tools to my toolbox for any time I'm required to post up or set.
I also believe that everyone on the team had similar takeaways regarding their play because of our determination to improve and our steadfast focus on achieving our ultimate goal at the end of season. It's a long road ahead of us, but I believe that this trip gave the group of us a very solid first step in the metaphorical staircase that is our season. It bonded us in ways that a domestic training trip simply cannot do.
We are more than a college students at school. We are a dynasty. We are a continuation of a tradition of excellence through brotherhood. We are more than a team, we are a family.
At Harvard, we serve to create and accomplish that which has not been done before as we seek to honor and preserve the traditions, relationships, and teachings of those that have come before us.
We wish the best for Coach Wood in the future as we look forward to the arrival of Coach Churnside. Just as the former has served the team with the diligence and dedication expected of one who wears the shield, we excitedly await the latter to join.
Until then, however, we have the opportunity to continue to grow and learn over the summer. Some of us will be working or interning within our hometowns. Others of us have the opportunity to continue to grow abroad. I meanwhile will continue to train, network and enjoy my second summer lifeguarding on the beaches of Newport Beach, California. I look forward to next season and the challenges and triumphs that come with it but above all, we as a team will continue to work to achieve our goals of winning a northern, an eastern and an NCAA championship.