SPX water polo players enjoy success, participate in Olympic development program


Photo courtesy of Ayden Hess

Junior Jameson Chatfield and senior Ayden Hess take a picture at the Junior Olympics in Dallas this summer.

Kyle Knuth, Staff Writer

The St. Pius X water polo team competes in the Georgia High School Water Polo Association’s top division, fighting and contending for championships year after year. The Lions are coached by Father Dan Rogaczwski, a priest at All Saints Catholic Church in Dunwoody and former theology teacher at St. Pius. Their most recent championship was in 2016. This year the team went 11-2-1 en route to a 4th place finish at the state tournament.

This year’s team includes seniors Ayden Hess, Kyle Knuth, and Brett Baker; juniors Jameson Chatfield, Brian Knuth, Cooper Howard, and Ethan Huddock; and freshman George Lesinski. Because it’s a club sport at St. Pius, students from other schools such as Marist and Chamblee are on the team as well. 

This year, Hess, Chatfield, and Howard each excelled to a level during the season that allowed them to participate in Olympic Development Program (ODP) camps, which set them up to play for the United States Olympic National team. ODP is a collection of water polo camps around the country that players compete in to showcase their skills in the water. 

“The camps are usually really rigorous and long,” Hess said, “So it’s a lot of focus and will to actually play at that level.”

The ODP camps function as the first level of the Olympic development pipeline. If coaches and scouts determine their skills are desirable for higher level play, they are recruited to play for the regional team, which in the case of Chatfield, Hess, and Howard was the Southeast Zone in North Carolina. From there they are chosen to play in a tournament in California where they have also have an opportunity to be recruited for a tournament in Hungary representing the United States in a large U18 international tournament. 

Last year, all three advanced to the national tournament, which was held in San Antonio due to California’s COVID restrictions. Hess perfected his skills as an outside player working his shots, swimming faster drives as he learned new ways to run an offense, Chatfield learned new tactics for fending off defenders in the set position, and Howard blocked shots from some of the best shooters in the southeast as he honed his goalie skills. 

“It’s one of the best places to go and see all forms of new talent,” said Chatfield, who added different aspects to his game during last year’s camp.

The trio have learned from some of the best coaches and players in the country. In the various stages and camps they’ve competed in, they’ve met players from teams like Mad Dog Water Polo in St. Louis, one of the best teams in the midwest, Greenwich Club in Connecticut, the best team on the east coast, a slew of California teams that trump the rest of the country with their talent depth, and the best players from Georgia’s high school league. 

“The friends you make during the tournaments are my favorite part. I still talk to a lot of those people and learn a lot from them,” said Hess, who hopes to play in college. 

These camps help the players expand their knowledge of the game and become better and more experienced players overall. The skills they learn will help them in their high school and college careers, and beyond.