Southern California tends to have more of everything. Sunny days, traffic, celebrity sightings…
Mater Dei senior Thomas Dunstan came here for something more as well. Competitive water polo games.
Dunstan developed into a premier youth player while growing up in New Canaan, Conn., and became the youngest member of the U.S. senior national team since 1964 when he was selected at age 16, but the East Coast lacked something critical: There just weren’t enough skilled players.
That left fewer quality teams to play against and long gaps between competitive games.
So the Dunstans packed their bags and headed west last winter. Dunstan enrolled at Mater Dei in January and has fit like a swim cap, most recently leading the Monarchs to the prestigious South Coast Tournament title last month.
“We have a good game at least once a week, usually,” Dunstan says of his experience in Southern California so far. “In Connecticut, it’s once every month or two. We don’t get competitive games very often. Practices here are way more intense and way more rigorous. They’re mandatory and, in Connecticut, not everyone shows up.”
Dunstan stands tall even in water polo-rich Southern California.
He’s nearing 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighs a tad over 200 pounds, but what makes him especially dominant is his 7-foot wingspan. Dunstan, who turned 18 on Sept. 29, is able to rise above defenders and release clean shots on goal or slap away opposing shots with his massive hands.
In the 13-5 win against Loyola of Los Angeles in the championship game of the South Coast Tournament, he scored four goals and blocked six shots.
The Monarchs seemed to pick up momentum as the tournament wore on and played their best game in the final. Now, they’ve moved into the Trinity League portion of their schedule, where Orange Lutheran has emerged as a formidable foe in just its fourth year as a varsity program.
Dunstan notices a big difference in the Monarchs compared to how they played in the first tournament of the season, when they lost to Harvard-Westlake in the championship game of the Santa Barbara Tournament. That’s the same Harvard-Westlake program that has won six straight games against Mater Dei, including the last two CIF-SS Division I championship games.
“We’re meshing together,” Dunstan says. “Way better than we were the first few games at Santa Barbara.”
While the Monarchs have Dunstan’s full attention now, he can’t help but think ahead to December, when he’ll travel to Japan with the U.S. national team in what figures to be his final audition to secure a spot on the 2016 Summer Olympics team.
“I’m still kind of in the running for 2016,” he says. “2020, I hope I’ll definitely be in.”
When asked which players he likes to emulate, Dunstan goes far beyond the North American borders and names Denes Varga of Hungary and Filip Filipovic of Serbia as his favorite players.
“[Varga] is an attacker and I just like to watch him move through the water,” Dunstan says. “[Filipovic] is the best in the world right now. He’s a lot of fun to watch and really good.”
The same can be says of Dunstan, who may not be an idol to young water polo players yet, but he’s certainly heading in that direction.