The 1993 Southern Section Division I water polo final (against Corona del Mar) was entering its second overtime--"sudden victory" as my team calls it--with the game still tied at the modest score of 9-9.
And there I was, the El Toro High sophomore goalkeeper, among 13 seniors on the squad. Thirteen seniors who would end their high school careers in anguish after but one little screw-up by the scrawny kid they've got in goal.
The pressure was so immense that I no longer even noticed the sea of people--college scouts, TV cameras and my wailing coach just a few yards away--surrounding the tiny 25-meter pool. You can imagine how ecstatic and relieved I was when my brother threw in the winning goal.
What is the toughest job in sports? I've participated in water polo, basketball, volleyball and swimming while at El Toro, and entered organized leagues in soccer, baseball and tennis before entering high school. I've stood at the free-throw line at the end of a tied game, gotten that long set at match point, and awaited that pitch with the bases loaded and my team down by two runs. All this can't hold a candle to the pressure I've endured as a water polo goalie.
What about skill and training? Every boy and girl is born running, jumping and throwing, but water polo goalies must learn the basic skill that only 5% of the world today knows how to do--tread water. But not just stay afloat, rather work out holding a 25-pound weight over his head. Such pressure on the legs' joints and ligaments is often the source of serious knee injuries (I will undergo surgery in the spring). Still, that's what needs to be done in order to get out of the water up to the suit about 300 times a practice.
During games, once a goalie masters the art of squinting through the 4 o'clock sun reflected off the water, he is often expected to stop 35-40 m.p.h. shots from point-blank range. Yet he can't just get in the way, he has to control the ball in front of him, ready to outlet a pass to lead the break as the opposing back line rushes to scavenge a "garbage" goal.
Being a goalkeeper in water polo is the toughest job in prep athletics. I'm sure you might have a perfectly rational reason for believing otherwise. However, if just for a second you could put aside that erroneous stereotype of water polo being a bunch of boys paddling around in Speedos, I'd be perfectly happy to trade places for a while.
I'm always eager to challenge myself, and would love to have to go to a job tougher than the one I'm already doing. Yet, you may be surprised to see which job is easier to pick up and which one is easier to give up.
Greg Stoll El Toro junior