Sports

From Rookie to All-American: the Andover Water Polo Dynasty

L..XUAN/The Phillipian

Two-year co-captain Travis Bouscaren ’14 led the team to its first Nepsac Championship in 2013 and was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.


For more than two decades, the Andover Boys Water Polo team has been a dominant force in New England, sending players to top-tier collegiate programs, producing All-American players, and placing in the top few teams in the Nepsac league championships year after year. Yet, unlike most athletic teams at Andover, the majority of the players join the team without any prior water polo experience.

From the annual batches of novice players, the team has molded numerous standouts who have contributed to the strength of the program. According to former Head Coach David Fox, three of the top ten players in both Andover and New England water polo history are Rush Taylor ’96, Howie Kalter ’07, and Travis Bouscaren ’14.

A competitive swimmer since age nine, Kalter first picked up the sport in order to fulfill his Fall athletic requirement and went on to become Andover’s first All-American water polo player.

Following his time on the Andover team, Kalter’s career highlights include making the 2010 NCAA All-American Water Polo Team, a brief stint as a professional water polo player in New Zealand, serving as a volunteer assistant water polo coach at Bucknell University, his alma mater, and Brown University, and earning a gold medal as part of Team USA at the Maccabiah games. In the Fall of 2014, Kalter returned to campus to serve as a Teaching Fellow in Mathematics and as Head Coach.

“Playing water polo at Andover taught me a lot. I learned that trying new things is an incredibly important process. I tried water polo because I needed a Fall sport, and it ended up influencing where I went to college, what I did after college, and where I work today,” wrote Kalter in an email to The Phillipian.

Standouts such as Kalter–who, at the end of his collegiate career at Bucknell, was the best American player in the United States born outside of California, according to Coach Fox–are unusual, but Kalter’s success in the sport is rooted in his Andover experience, as is the success of many other Andover Boys Water Polo alumni.

Over the past few decades, the team has maintained a top ranking in the Nepsac league and, in 1994, was the first New England team to defeat Phillips Exeter Academy in a Nepsac semifinal, marking the rise of Andover’s success.

In 2006, the team competed in the Nepsac Championship Final, but suffered a triple-overtime defeat to Exeter. In 2013, Andover returned to the final and won its first Nepsac title 6-5 against Exeter. Since then, the team has maintained its dominance within the league and has placed in the top-three of the Liquid Four tournament for the past few years.

Despite having many novice players, the Andover Water Polo team has succeeded in building a dominant program and skillful players out of people without any prior experience in the sport. According to Fox, the reason for this success is that water polo novices are often talented and disciplined athletes in other sports, with most of the team members even going on to compete at the collegiate level.

Fox wrote, “I think having a highly motivated swim team has helped. Those boys want to be as prepared as possible for the swimming season, and water polo is great. We have also had great support from the crew coaches over the past forty years; they have pushed lots of great athletes to the program.”

“Most people on the team have played other sports prior to swimming or water polo, and so a lot of the game sense and knowledge that is required for [other] sports… can be transferred into relatively similar concepts for water polo…. A lot of small pieces of information can be taken from other sports and slowly compiled into something that is similar to proper water polo technique,” said Max Hunger ’20, a swimmer who first began playing water polo last year.

In the past decade, the team has welcomed no more than half a dozen primarily water polo players, according to Coach Fox.

Coach Fox believes that the continuous influx of new players is beneficial for improving the returning players’ game. According to Fox, the yearly influx of new players ensures that the game is retaught each season, which is valuable to returning players who typically only compete for the three month-long season each Fall.

“There are, though, lots of challenges, too, especially in striking the balance each season between performing the best the team can, which relies almost always on returners, and preparing for the future, making sure the novices are ready to step up next year,” wrote Coach Fox in an email to The Phillipian.

Developing a unified team of the athletic individuals that join the program is consistently a challenge that ultimately makes the team able to work together so closely, according to former Co-Captain Jonathan Xue ’17 and Rush Taylor ’96, who, as Co-Captain, led the team to the semifinal defeat of Exeter in 1994.

Taylor believes that he and his teammates were able to work together as a unit as they had learned each stage of the game together, from the fundamentals to complex gameplay, ultimately empowering them to be the first ever to defeat Exeter water polo in a Nepsac semifinal in 1994.

Xue said, “We had a lot of guys with just different personalities, but we all got along very well. I think that definitely contributed greatly to our team chemistry, which is absolutely crucial in a team sport, especially when you’re going through Andover… These are guys that not only can you seek them out in the pool, but they’re willing to help you out outside of the pool if you have personal issues, academic issues, whatever. They weren’t just your teammates. They became your brothers.”

Taylor said, “I think there’s a lot of intuition that comes with playing together… You just get to know intimately your teammates, and you can anticipate what they’re going to do, and a lot of times, maybe before they know they’re going to do it. That enables you to react and work better as a team.”

In addition to the new players without prior water experience, the team usually has a small contingent of returning players. The team depends on student leadership to teach new players, especially because team has had three different coaches in the past three seasons.

According to former Co-Captain Eric Osband ’19 and Kalter, the team maintains a diligent work ethic that carries through to other aspects of players’ lives. Players attend extra student-led practices on the weekends and do outside training, which contributes to each’s success in his other sports, as well.

According to Osband, the team does not train solely within the confines of practice, but consistently together during open swim hours. The team’s composition of athletes that are serious in other sports results in a discipline in training, both in and out of scheduled practice.

“You can go to practice five days a week, but not every team is going to have someone that goes to all the open swims…and goes to the gym all the time. That just does not really happen, but it did for our team, because everyone came in with a mindset of, ‘I need to be good in my sport and stay in shape for my sport,’ and they found out that by training that hard–by playing so much water polo–they would stay in shape. That is why they kept on coming back,” said Osband.

Kalter wrote, “I can’t [over]emphasize the work ethic that water polo players need to have to be successful. It is an incredibly demanding sport both physically and mentally. Any time you can put yourself through that amount of work and come back for more, you are building character that will help you in all of your endeavors.”

The mentorship new players receive from experienced team members sets a standard for these players that promotes a team dynamic of giving back to the team and helping one another, according to Xue and Kalter.

Xue, a Junior when the team won the Nepsac Championship title, was inspired by the leadership of the members of the Class of 2014, which in turn motivated him as a leader during his years as an upperclassman.

“Having mentorship and guidance from the Class of ’14 guys, I was able to extract and learn so much… that helped me develop not just physically and swimming and water polo, but also just mentally, as well as enhancing my leadership skills. [As] I got older… I had all the lessons that I learned from the Class of ’14. I wanted to spread that and be able to guide and give back to the younger guys. It’s almost like emulating the Class of ’14 guys, because they provided so much for me so I wanted to just get back to [that] team in that sense,” said Xue.

Kalter believes that beyond inherent athleticism and knowledgeable coaches, student leadership is critical to the team’s perennial success.

Kalter wrote, “The reason I think that Andover is dominant in the Nepsac league while still being comprised of novice players…[is] that it all comes down to those individuals who are in leadership roles. The captains and experienced players are pivotal in a teams success. If they get frustrated and check out from the team, it’s going to be hard to have a good season. I think that the culture at Andover in general supports this dynamic. Students truly want to help each other.”