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Breakout freshman drives men’s water polo offense

Freshman utility player Andras Levai controls the ball during men’s water polo’s Saturday game against Wagner.

Near the beginning of the second quarter against Wagner Saturday, men’s water polo trailed by one point. But a timely power play, orchestrated by freshman utility player Andras Levai, opened up an opportunity for an easy goal and tied the score.

The Colonials (9-6, 3-2 MAWPC) went on to win their first home game of the season while Levai finished with four assists on the day.

“My teammates were making lots of good shots,” Levai said. “I had to be a playmaker for this game.”

During the opening month of the season, Levai has burst onto the scene in his first year as one of the Colonials’ top scorers and distributors. Levai has tallied 34 goals and 17 assists on the year so far, both second on the team.

His scoring success has surprised even himself, he said.

“I consider myself more of a playmaker type player so I didn’t really expect to score,” Levai said. “If I have to step up, I can be a goal scorer, too.”

The Hungarian native stands out in the pool because he is left-handed, making him a versatile attacker and harder to defend, head coach Barry King said.

“A right hander in that slot is actually swinging the ball outside the goal frame, whereas a left hander is attacking the end of the goal,” King said. “Now you have to guard both sides of the goal and it’s difficult to do when you have that much space.”

Levai’s play earned him Collegiate Water Polo Association Rookie of the Week honors last month. He scored eight goals and made three assists at the Princeton Invitational that weekend.

But for Levai, water polo is more than a sport — it’s a family and national tradition.

Levai adopted the sport 13 years ago growing up in Budapest, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather.

He started his water polo career at the club level, playing for the Budapest-based Központi Sport-és Ifúsági. During his 13 years there, Levai won three national championships, leading the team as captain to back-to-back titles.

“His awareness, his ability to operate in space, it’s pretty high level for an 18-year-old,” King said. “But you would expect that from somebody who grew up in the Hungarian system.”

Water polo is a long-standing tradition in Hungary, and the men’s national team holds the Olympic record for total medals. Levai had his own opportunity to join in on his country’s national pastime when he was invited to compete on the Hungarian junior national team, an experience he described as “crazy.”

“For me it was not that big of a deal because at that time I knew I wanted to come here,” Levai said. “I wasn’t really into it, but it was amazing. Who would turn down playing for the national team of their country?”

Levai ultimately made the decision to travel across the Atlantic ocean to play for the Colonials because he wanted to play high-level water polo and get a good education, he said.

Being so far away from his native country, Levai said he has experienced his fair share of homesickness.

“Obviously I miss home, but I guess this is my new home, so I just have to get used to it,” Levai said.

For Levai, adapting to the U.S. has been easier with the help of a friendly face: sophomore Jordan Blosser. Levai and Blosser both played for Chino Hills Area Water Polo in California for three consecutive summers.

“He’s family to me,” Blosser said. “He’s my best friend.”

Levai’s time in California helped him familiarize himself with the American style of play in water polo, but he still has to get used to the rules at the collegiate level, he said.

Levai’s fellow freshmen, goalkeeper Vaios Vlahotasios from Greece and attack Kerim Sismanoglu from Turkey, have also helped Levai acclimate to his new environment. In total, five members of the team come from abroad.

“They’re European too, we kinda help each other,” Levai said. “Their mother language is not English too, so actually we can relate to each other if we don’t understand something.”

Playing against Fordham Sept. 24, he earned an ejection with two successive fouls for leaping off the bottom of the pool while attempting to steal the ball.

“It’s a different game,” Blosser said. “It’s just about the experience and like knowing that the rules are different. He’s already adjusted to those rules and he’s already becoming more of a complete player.”

In addition to different standards of officiating, Levai said the American style of play is more physical.

“You need to get really, really strong,” Levai said. “Back in Hungary, it’s more about talent and skills.”

Levai joined a Colonials team that went 8-2 in the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference and made an appearance in the conference final last season. He said his commitment to helping the team continue to grow motivates him to work harder.

“I see them working really hard so I’m like, ‘I wanna do the same thing,’” Levai said. “I’m trying to learn from them, and if I teach them something, they can learn from me.”

The Colonials will return to the pool at Bucknell Saturday at 5 p.m.

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