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WASHINGTON, D.C. — For two months of George Washington University’s summer break, Andrew Mavis started most days at the water polo club VK Stari Grad in the Serbian capital of Belgrade with a 7 a.m. practice.

Often, the coaches called out, “No balls,” which meant the two-time All-America center began his morning by swimming up to 4,000 meters’ worth of laps.

Then came three hours of “theory.” These guided discussions of situational tactics in Serbian broke the game down to its most minute details and forced Mavis to mine context clues to keep up.

Following an afternoon gym workout, Mavis was back in the pool alongside the club’s world-class talent for another two-hour practice to wrap up the day.

Talk about a summer vacation.

“It’s taken my game to a whole new level,” said Mavis, who spent time with the club for a fourth consecutive summer. “I know everyone on the East Coast is not training like this.”

46979 That Mavis keeps going back to VK Stari Grad is an undeniable testament to his adaptability, desire to improve and love for the game.

The New Jersey native still only knows bits and pieces of Serbian, but he fits in well in the water polo-loving nation. The language of the sport is universal, he’s found.

“It’s great for me just being in that environment around some of the best players in the world,” Mavis said. “I learn something new every single day.”

Coming off a banner junior season in which he scored a career-high 83 goals to aid GW’s run to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) quarterfinals, Mavis hopes the hard work he put in on his latest visit to Serbia will position him for even more success in his final fall in Buff and Blue.

GW head coach Barry King can vouch for the results. He’s grateful to have Mavis leading his group in the pursuit for a third straight Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference crown.

“He wants to get better and keep expanding his game,” King said. “He’s taken advantage of a great chance to learn from people with different styles and then incorporated it into a way to make his teammates better.

“Every time he comes back, he’s got just a little bit more attention to the finer points of the game, and he’s just a little bit more mobile and harder to guard.”

Mavis made his first summer trip to Serbia in 2016 ahead of his first season in Foggy Bottom. He went to visit a friend and former club teammate named Shon Parnett, who was just starting medical school in Belgrade.

Momo Ivetic, a Serbian who coached the pair at Princeton Tiger Aquatics Club, helped connect Mavis with Makuljevic Djordje, a decorated Serbian coach who has served as a mentor during his stays there.

For Mavis, the chance to train at VK Stari Grad – one of 10 clubs to sponsor a team in the top division of the Serbian Water Polo League – seemed like a dream, but he quickly learned all it would take to make the most of it.

“I showed up and they looked at me like ‘What’s this American doing here?'” Mavis remembered. “You slowly make friends and build relationships and gain their respect.”

Mavis got there by putting in the work. The Serbians’ painstaking approach to the game turned out to be a perfect fit for the soft-spoken and studious Mavis.

He showed up for every workout and dutifully took notes through each study session. He asked plenty of questions when there was an English speaker around to help translate, but he also figured things out for himself.

“By now, I can understand maybe 95 percent of it,” Mavis said with a grin.

51507Over four summers, Mavis has slowly added to his game in big ways and small. He’s particularly enamored with the the Serbians’ focus on efficiency in the water.

“It’s been huge,” Mavis said. “I understand the game more. I understand how defenders are going to play me. It’s changed my whole perception of the sport and how much I can learn still.”

Mavis has reaped the benefits, boosting his goal total from 39 to 81 to 83 over his first three collegiate campaigns.

His Serbian training particularly paid off last fall with GW’s season on the line. In overtime against Bucknell University in the MAWPC final at Fordham University, he twice shook free in the middle of the defense and found the back of the net in a 12-11 victory.

“We practice very specifically where to put the ball and how my legs are working in those moments,” said Mavis, who was named to the MAWPC All-Championship Team for the second consecutive season. “Those are all the things I’m thinking about right there.”

This summer, Mavis embraced the grind same as ever.

For the first time, he was asked to playing in a few exhibition matches. Facing top competition in a 30-meter pool (five meters longer than the college game) provided countless reminders of how much room he has left for improvement.

Mavis is excited to see how it translates this fall with a majority of the lineup, including fellow two-time All-America Atakan Destici, back in the fold. He knows he’s not the only Colonial who had a busy summer.

“I’m just motivated by how much I love the game and how much I love this team,” said Mavis, who enters the season ranked ninth in program history with 203 career goals. “I think people could say we have more pressure (because of the recent success), but I’m more confident because I know how much work we’ve all put in.”

Release courtesy George Washington University Athletics Communications

Collegiate Water Polo Association