Water Polo Edges Past Choate for New England Championship

By Bob York

Deerfield vs. Choate: In the athletic arena, it never gets any better than this — especially when it’s for all the marbles.

And all the marbles were up for grabs this fall when these two archrivals dove into the drink for the finals of the New England Prep School Athletic Conference Boys Water Polo Tournament.

Adding to the luster was the fact that Choate owned the lone blemish on the Big Green’s 15-1 league record this season, ambushing Deerfield, 11-4 on opening night. The Green would later return the favor in its own pool, ringing up a 9-3 decision, thus setting up this all-or-nothing rubber match.

This one would be no battle of the bulge like those 11-4 and 9-3 margins had resulted in, however. This one went to the very end and was finally decided when Deerfield’s Chris Miao (’12) scored the game’s 21st goal with just four seconds remaining to send Choate to the bottom, 11-10.

Miao, who finished the game with six goals, produced two of them in the final minute of play. He scored with 35 seconds remaining in the game to give Deerfield its first lead of the day at 10-9.

“But Choate came right back down the pool and tied the game at 10-10, and now there’s just 13 seconds remaining,” said Miao.

But not to worry, Miao played hero a second time, and this time, Choate had no answer.

“It was about a 20-footer,” remembers Miao of the game winner. “I just skipped the ball right under the goalie’s right arm.”

The Big Green, which entered the tourney as its No. 1 seed and knocked off Suffield, 12-8 in the semifinals, found itself in troubled waters at the outset of the finale. Deerfield fell behind, 3-0, after one period of play and trailed 5-2 late in the second period.

“I think the key was that we kept our composure,” said Coach Mark Scandling, whose clubs have now won three of the past four New England pennants. “We began developing some cohesion as a team about that point, however, and by halftime we had gotten ourselves back into the game as we were down by just one (7-6) at halftime.”

“We got some much-needed scoring from the perimeter,” explained Miao of the Big Green’s offensive surge. That was because Campbell Johnson (’11), Deerfield’s leading scorer on the season with 83, drew a double-and often triple-team defense from Choate.

“So,” said Miao, “it was up to the rest of us who were open to pick up the slack.”

And that’s exactly what they did.

Austin Bridges (’12), who, along with Miao, earned a spot on the all-tourney team, made four goals in the semi-final game, while Miao made nine goals in the tournament, three in the semi-finals and six in the final game.  Jack Vallar (’12) and Jamie Pielock (’11) also netted key goals in the title game.

Johnson, who still managed three goals against Choate and three others during the semifinal round win, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.

Ironically, scoring wasn’t exactly Johnson’s forte when he came to Deerfield four years ago, nor was it as recently as midseason of his junior year. That’s because his first two and one-half seasons were spent as a goalie. And he wasn’t even a starting goalie until last year.

Then, about midseason, “Coach Scandling was looking to put some more punch in the offense and he asked me if I’d give it a try. And I did.”

Fortunately for both Scandling and Campbell, the move could be made because Rich Beaumont (’11) was able to move in between the pipes and has done himself proud, as he too, made the all-tourney team.

This fall’s Big Green mermen proved worthy of their top billing all season long and their No. 1 seed in the tourney. Deerfield outscored its opponents, 186-115. It was held under double digits just twice, both times by Choate. Its defense, meanwhile, which was led by Beaumont, allowed double digits just three times. Choate twice and eastern Mass. powerhouse St. John’s Prep once.

Individually, Johnson, who earned the Coaches’ Award for his efforts, posted six goals in a game on three occasions, while he netted five during four other outings. Miao, Deerfield’s second-leading scorer with 60 goals, produced four goals in a game three times, while Justin Kwok (’11) tallied three goals once.

Bob York is a Recorder wire editor. His e-mail address is byork@recorder.com.