Andrew Penner ’22 is a first-year on the men’s water polo team, and he just wrapped up Brown’s last stretch before conference play with six goals in three games. Scoring four against Connecticut College before adding one apiece in two games at Austin College, Penner, a graduate of Massachusetts’ Deerfield Academy, has had no trouble finding the net recently. Penner’s performances helped carry the Bears into conference play on a four-game winning streak and made him The Herald’s Athlete of the Week.
Herald: How did it feel to score four in one game against Connecticut College the other day?
Penner: It felt really good. Our coach took that game as a good opportunity to get some of the younger guys playing time and see how they handled it in a competitive game. It was really good to get in there and get some experience.
You scored again when you guys went to Texas — do you feel like you’re hitting your stride?
Yeah. Texas has a really young program and water polo is just developing there, so it was another chance for a lot of our freshmen to get some playing time. I felt good in the water, and I feel like I’m learning a lot. We have our offensive and defensive systems, and I have a lot to learn with those, have to get a little bit bigger and stronger. Then it’s just getting in a rhythm with the guys and learning how they play and how I fit into the team, (which) is really important.
What’s it like to be able to contribute right away like that as a freshman?
Our coach trusts our freshmen a lot. We’re all getting in and playing a lot. Some of the other guys have been getting in and putting up as many (as I), or even more goals as well. So, I think we’re all getting that good experience, which is really nice.
Did you ever feel like the Connecticut College game was in doubt after going up 7-0 after a quarter and 11-2 at halftime?
We had a couple tough games last weekend at the Princeton Invitational, and then also at our tournament, the Bruno Classic. So I think we took that (Connecticut) College game as an opportunity to practice, no matter who the opponent is. … To play the best regardless of who we’re in the pool against, whether it’s the number one team — UCLA — or anyone else.
Both goalies managed nine saves — do you feel confident having them behind you?
Absolutely. Both of our goalies, I think, are the two best goalies on the East Coast for sure. They’re definitely better than a lot of the goalies on the West Coast as well. Ugo (Piovan ’22) is a freshman … Riad (Hallal ’21) is a sophomore, but they’re both really experienced and really committed guys. Yeah, we definitely trust them in the cage.
You guys were the visiting team for the first men’s water polo game in Texas in four decades, how was that?
It was nice. Texas obviously isn’t a big water polo state, so it was really interesting to go there. We ended up going to Austin College for our first game, and it was just cool to see. I forget exactly how many fans they had there, but it was one of most packed crowds I’ve ever seen for water polo. The stands were totally full, the atmosphere was amazing. Obviously they were supporting the other team, but it was just cool to play in that atmosphere where it was just so loud and so passionate. And I think a lot of people in Texas haven’t seen a water polo game in a long time, so I think they were really interested in it.
The Bears played an exhibition in Dallas against a team with a couple of former Brown water polo players. What was that like?
One of the alumni was Rico (Burke ’18) who graduated last year, and the other, Warren (Smith ’17) graduated — I think — two years ago. So it was cool to play against them. Obviously as a freshman I don’t know those two that well, but all the older guys on the team now hung out and talked with them before the game and afterwards. It was nice to play against some older guys.
How are you guys feeling about the rest of the season as the No. 18 team in the country?
We’re feeling good. I think we have a lot of ground to cover in terms of developing as a team. The skill is definitely there, and we know what we can do, it’s just putting it into practice in the next couple of weeks going into conference games. Then eventually, by the conference championship in November, hopefully we’ll be where we want to be.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.