At 10 years old, Sam Krutonog ’18 reluctantly agreed to fill in for an injured teammate as goalie during their water polo game. He recalls his disappointment in realizing the impossibility of fulfilling his wish of scoring a goal that game. However, he did not realize at the time that this would be the last game he ever even considered playing field.
As the starting goalie of the USA Water Polo Cadet Men’s National Team and the school’s varsity team, Krutonog recalls this story with humor as he looks back on the beginning of his water polo career. He has been training in this position since the moment his coach accidentally inspired the creation of a dedicated goalie at 10 years old.
Although being a goalie is strenuous work, he explained that his attitude towards the position has a large effect on how he plays and his love for the sport helps encourage him to train and improve daily. This attitude has led him to become successful as the starting goalie for what Aquatics Program Head Brian Flacks ’06 considers to be one of the best water polo teams in the United States: Harvard-Westlake.
“When I am really at my best is when I am confident and having fun. Smiling is usually a good indicator of that,” said Krutonog.
He is most successful when he loves what he is doing. Whenever he plays well, it is due to his love of the game coupled with his countless hours of work.
He trains 6 days a week with 3 hour daily practices, consisting of grueling conditioning, drills, and scrimmages. Furthermore, he partakes in weight training sessions with the team early in the morning three days a week. With all his practice, a 28 minute game becomes leisurely. On game days, he is always ready.
“It comes naturally. [Playing in a game] is one of the greatest feelings in the world,” he said.
He played one of the best games of his life this past season against school rival Loyola Oct. 21, 2015. He recorded twelve saves in a game where Harvard-Westlake crushed Loyola 12-2. Throughout the game, he made save after save with the highlight of a deflected five-meter free shot in front of a roaring home crowd. He knew he was playing well, and he loved it.
“The ‘on fire’ feeling is amazing. I felt like I could block any ball being thrown at me, no matter who was shooting,” he said.
Krutonog enjoys all aspects of the game; he relishes its competitive nature and the bonds that he forms with his teammates. He can be seen grinning in the goal after blocking difficult shots from both opposing players and his own team. His teammates recognized his efforts in his standout game at Loyola and understand his importance to the team.
“[The Loyola game] was probably the best game I’ve ever seen Sam play,” said Stanford commit Ben Hallock ’16 in a post-game interview for the Los Angeles Daily News.
Krutonog is consoled by fellow goalkeeper Jordan Friedman ’17 after losing to Mater Dei. Credit: Matthew Yam/Chronicle
He has been training with Head Coach Brian Flacks ’06 since his freshman year. He accredits much of his success to the training he has received from his coaches.
“His greatest attribute is his general love for the game, he really, really loves water polo. Being a goalkeeper, it is impossible to be really good at it unless you have that passion of the game because it’s so individual” said head Coach Brian Flacks ‘06.
As the season began, players including Krutonog began to feel the pressure of the upcoming CIF championship games. Everyone was tense, he recalled. The team was ready to work as hard as it could to get the win it knew it deserved.
In a post-game interview after the squad defeated Huntington Beach in the CIF semifinals, he said, “We’re prepared for Saturday, and we’ll come up with the [win]. I know it. I just know we are going to do it.”
According to him, when he isn’t having fun or isn’t at his best, he feels it, and the team feels it too. Recently, the Varsity Water Polo team went through what he described as a “bump” in the long road to CIF.
The team had lost two games to Mater-Dei this season by a score of 11-10 both times. These two losses were the first time the Wolverines had lost since 2013, the first loss snapping a 50 game win streak. He said he shoulders a lot of the blame for the losses on himself, and he has begun to feel the pressure that comes with being a goalkeeper in any sport.
“I felt like the whole loss was my fault in the moment. I was too upset. I rode home with some of the guys and it was just really quiet. We were all just thinking [about the loss]. It wasn’t fun at all,” he said. “The day after, we broke down film of the game. I got to watch all of my mistakes over. Of course, Brian [Flacks] got on a lot of us about our mistakes, but it definitely made us better.”
When game day arrived, he was ready. He considered it to be the biggest game of his life: his first CIF championship game. he had been keeping a laser-like focus on this game and was confident in his skills for the game.
He was prepared to play in the biggest water polo game in his life, The CIF-SS Division 1 championship. After working as hard as he could all season long, the big moment was finally here. The team faced off against Mater Dei, the program’s arch rival, The CIF champions for five consecutive years before Harvard-Westlake took the crown in 2013 and 2014.
The game began and something was wrong. He wasn’t himself. He wasn’t playing like himself, and he wasn’t playing like a national team player. After averaging fewer than five goals let in throughout the season, he felt helpless as nine balls fly past him into the back of the net. When the whistle blows, he is in shock, feeling numb. He swims back to the bench dazed and wondering what happened, trying to take it all in.
“What probably hurt me the most was watching Mater Dei jump in the pool because I’d worked so hard and as I was swimming to the bench I felt like I let my coaches and teammates down and watching [Mater Dei] jump into the pool and celebrate was something I don’t think will ever go away”, he said.
Even though they lost in the finals, Krutonog is determined to win CIF another year. He says he knows how much he will have to prepare himself to win, but is ready to put in the work. He knows it will be grueling and painful at times to continue hours of difficult training, but he will happily face the challenge because it is the sport he loves.
He plans on continuing his training, a full schedule of practice 6 days a week. He says he believes the dedication will push him even harder to improve and become a talented goalie.
“It’s the drive that I have that’s different. Other people may like water polo, but I love it. That drive to be great that I have has pushed me to where I am today,” he said.
Even though thoughts of the Mater Dei game creep into his mind everyday, he said he will learn from the losses, but he will not let his mistakes define him.
“I know I still have a future ahead me and I’m keeping sight on what is important,” he said. “The relationships I have with my teammates are some that will last forever and I am so fortunate to play the game that I love alongside them.”