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03/05/2024 10:36 AM

Stouraites Parlaying Water Polo Progress into Trip to Nationals

Madison resident Kenny Stouraites will be attending the Olympic Development National Championships this month in Chicago in representing the Northeast. Photo courtesy of Kenny Stouraites

One sport on a rapid rise across the landscape of the United States is water polo. For one local junior high student, he has ridden the wave of the game’s growth, and earned an opportunity to showcase his stuff and the sport on a national stage.

Madison 8th grader Kenny Stouraites grew up playing sports as a hobby, but then later got involved in swimming, tennis, and basketball. Through a teammate’s sibling, he was drawn to water polo, and later joined the New Haven Hydras team. Now, Kenny’s diligence within the sport has paid off profoundly, as he was selected to represent the Northeast Zone at the Olympic Development Program (ODP) National Championships from Friday, March 15 to Sunday, March 17 in Chicago.

“This has been a great experience so far. I am excited to go to nationals and just really excited to make it this far with the process of nationals,” says Kenny, a goalie. “This is my first year in ODP, and to make it this far in my first year is a really good feeling to me. I am really happy with this, because I did not think I could do it. As goalie, I work on my legs, so any good leg work is useful to prepare for water polo. I am continuing to get better with my hand-eye coordination and feeling more comfortable in the goalie cage to do the best job I can do.”

Speaking to the sport’s growth in notoriety, Kenny clamors for an opportunity to help it continue to expand across national and local ranks. Still, along the way, he has enveloped himself inside a deep but close-knit water polo community that has a diverse range of competitors and coaches.

“It is the fastest growing sport in the U.S., so it is pretty cool to represent Madison in competition. Hopefully I can help make the sport a bigger part of the country and Madison,” says Kenny. “I went to the Navy Academy Camp last summer, and made a lot of friends that I would not have made otherwise. It was very beneficial to me to make those friendships and see national competition. I also attended a clinic with former Olympian Merrill Moses, and I have gotten to know Connecticut College Coach Matt Anderson. He lives here in town, and he's one of my travel basketball coaches, and has been a really great overall sports resource for me.”

Kenny has also cultivated a sharper and more cunning mind when it comes to producing fast-moving reflexes during pivotal in-game situations. Speaking to Kenny’s long term objectives, he would like to attain the same status as one of the aforementioned mentors he has come to know.

“I have improved with the sport by getting stronger; my IQ and my awareness out there has gotten better. I am also doing better with my decision-making skills,” Kenny says. “My big goal is to win a gold medal at the Olympics for the U.S. Men’s National Team.”

Through the hustle and bustle of competition and getting prepared to embark on a journey to nationals, Kenny does not forget that he is a student first. He notes that he has learned to compartmentalize his time to address and fulfill all of his obligations every 24 hours.

“I have learned to use my time wisely to get things done like my homework,” says Kenny. “And then even when it comes to sports, I will use my free time from sports and utilize it to train and work on the parts of my game that I need to address. Using your time well is a good lesson to learn, and a good skill for life.”

New Haven Hydras Head Coach Andy Lewandowski notes that Kenny deserves every accolade coming to him with this journey to nationals. He adds that he has been a focal point behind the rise of the Hydras’ program.

“Kenny competed against 100 of the top players from our zone in his age group, so it is an impressive feat to be one of the 14 players selected for the team,” says Lewandowski. “Kenny has had a great impact on our 14-U boys’ team. He is a leader in the water, and his excellent play in the goal is a big reason for our team's success. Over the winter, this team had an undefeated record against other clubs in our zone. It is our hope that our 14-U team will continue to improve throughout the spring and summer, and we hope all of their work will culminate in an exceptional performance at the USA Water Polo Junior Olympics Tournament in early August. With Kenny anchoring this team in the goal, I like our chances.

While Kenny encourages others to take the plunge into what will be nothing less than a fun experience with the Hydras, he aims to go beyond the opening round of competition for the National Championships with ODP. Regardless of how it turns out, he will be humble and grateful for the opportunity alone.

“If anyone is interested in playing water polo, the New Haven Hydras is a great club to join with great experiences,” Kenny says. “I hope that we win all of our games at nationals. I also hope I advance to the next selection round in California to potentially be part of the Junior National Team. Either way, though, I know I have made it further already than a lot of others.”