BROOKLYN N.Y. — St. Francis College Brooklyn is posting a a series of interviews with St. Francis men’s water polo players by journalist Michael Randazzo as the Terriers prepare to open the 2018 season at Brown University’s Bruno Classic on Saturday, September 1 against Pepperdine University.
A year after winning Northeast Water Polo Conference’s Coach of the Year honors in his first season as a head coach, St. Francis’ Bora Dimitrov is back for a second run with more players and potential than Terrier fans have seen in recent memory.
With 25 players vying for what was ultimately determined to be 18 spots on his roster, Dimitrov—three years removed from representing St. Francis in the pool—now has the bodies to compete against the top programs in the East. The question is: will all his top players make it through a long and grueling Northeast Water Polo Conference (NWPC) season and advance the Terriers to their first conference final since 2013?
Swimming World’s Michael Randazzo spoke to Dimitorv on the St. Francis pool deck at the beginning of practices for the 2018 season.
– You come into a new season with more players than you have roster spots.
Having  guys on the St. Francis roster is just very exciting, because now we’re going to have people jump in and replace those who are tired. It’s really exciting to see 25 guys battling to make the [team], because no position is given—like in the last couple of season because we were lacking players. Even the players who were not that skillful were getting a spot with the team—but they were not that deserving.
– Injuries to Botond Kadar and Bogdan Kostic scuttled your season last year; how does your team stay healthy?
That’s a challenge. This year we’re not going to play the Harvard crossover tournament [in October] because [last year] things went downhill exactly after that tournament. We won all our games but we traveled to California three days after that and the guys were exhausted. That 11-match winning streak was just blown up.
I’ve organized the schedule better to prevent those injuries. Some guys are playing most of the game—and that’s why they get injured. This year we’re going to have a different approach and play a lesser number of games because we shouldn’t play so many non-conference games. You get gassed and that’s what happened to us last year—we finally got the winning attitude I wanted us to have then we ran out of gas. And, of course, people are going to get injured.
You want to play those games and you want to win, but at the cost of our two best offensive players. Although we lost them I really liked the attitude our players showed. Even though we lost against Harvard on two rebounds—lucky tips that put [back] in the cages—it was really hard to take that loss.
We’re going to have a nice rematch with [the Crimson] this year and if everybody stays healthy we will put in the work.
– You’ve now got a year under your belt as head coach for the Terriers. How has that experience helped in preparing your team for this season?
Water polo has always been my passion—and I’m very passionate about coaching these guys. Carl [Quigley] is my assistant coach—after 43 years at St. Francis College—it’s going to be a challenge for two of us to handle all these guys. But I always make sure that we’re all on the same page because going to St. Francis is not easy, especially when you have so many international players. You have housing issues, you have issues of [players] adjusting to college life and American culture—and that at the beginning of the season when you’re anxious for that first win to come!
Once they win that first one their confidence goes up, they get adjusted to everything and we arrive on the same page all together; then it’s easier from that point on.
It’s only been one year for me as a head coach but I hope it’s going to be many years and I hope we’re going to get great results.
– Which of your players do you expect will stand out in 2018?
Obviously, our four returning seniors [Kostic, Oggie Antanaskovic, Nikita Prokhin, Jonas Veazey] are going to be a big part of the team this year, especially because they’ve now played three years [at St. Francis]. Our conference is predictable; throughout the years the teams have the same tactics and same playing styles. Our seniors know it and that’s one of the biggest strength we have.
We have a couple of new juniors, Matheus [Santos] and Benedek [Molnar] who are going to contribute. Matheus is coming from Golden West College, which is one of the best community college programs in California. Then we have [freshman] Djore Stanic coming from Serbia—he was with the Serbian junior national team. He’s going to be a really important contributor.
We have Will Lapkin of course. He had a brilliant season last year. Boris Posavec from Croatia; I believe he’ll have a good season. They’re both juniors as well, so they’ve had some playing experience [in the conference].
Overall, we have 10-to-12 really good guys who can play at an equal level and [are experienced with] conference play, the hardest part of the season.
– It will be great to see Carl back on the St. Francis bench again.
Carl is the face of our program—it was always like that and is always going to be that way. I’m very happy that he accepted the assistant coach position because I was expecting that he was going to fully retire. But that’s Carl; he wasn’t going to just disappear.
We have many new guys—and who can help them better than Carl?!
– As you size up your Northeast Water Polo Conference competition, what do you expect this year for your team in conference play?
I would be lying if I said I was expecting anything less than a championship. But, there’s Harvard, which has had an awesome recruiting year, and Princeton with a new coach. That can go in two different ways; one way [is]: the kids don’t adapt to the coach and the season doesn’t go well. The other is, the kids adapt brilliantly to the coach and they do a great job.
Then there’s Brown; their program has such a great history. They’re always a challenge; we beat them home and away last year but guess what: they beat as the beginning and end of the season. They never back down—and that’s going to be my main point of emphasis: the team that refuses to back down is the one that going to win the game.
There was the final last year—Princeton against Harvard. Princeton was up the whole game but Harvard wouldn’t back down. I believe it would be the same thing if Harvard was up because both teams know how to fight [back].
We had that mentality as well throughout those 11 games [last year]—and this big roster will help us maintain that attitude throughout this season. As long as I have the luxury of changing guys—which I’m going to do a lot this year—that will be the key to our season.
Release courtesy St. Francis College Brooklyn Athletics Communications