Ramaley Back to Lead Greenwich High Water Polo Program
By Paul Silverfarb
Although there is a new person at the helm of the Greenwich High School boys’ water polo team, he’s certainly no stranger to the program and of its storied tradition.
“It’s really fun and I am really excited,” said Ramaley. “I think the kids could see that I am excited and that I want to bring back some of that tradition this program is known for.”
And to say that Ramaley knows what the water polo program is all about and how much it means to the high school community is a massive understatement.
Ramaley is the youngest of seven in his family and he’s spent plenty of time in the pool. One of his brothers was in the program and eventually joined the coaching staff at GHS for a few years. Ramaley enjoyed his four years with the water polo team under legendary head coach Terry Lowe while a student at Greenwich High School.
He enjoyed it so much that after college Ramaley came back to the Cardinals and was a member of the coaching staff for the past three seasons under Chris Vidale. With Vidale stepping down at the end of last year, Ramaley took the leap of faith and was named the new head coach of a program he’s grown up with.
“It’s really cool and I like to say to the other alumni that I am the first alumni coach in the program’s history and the youngest coach in the program’s history,” Ramaley said. “Granted, there’s only been three head coaches. All kidding aside, I’m really proud to be back. A lot more people have been paying attention to water polo now. People know me and know that I am from around the area.”
With only two coaches prior to Ramaley in the team’s history, taking over the position and leading the program can seem like a daunting task. However, Ramaley said that Lowe has been an amazing mentor and is willing to help out any way possible.
“He’s really close to my family and has been helping me with everything,” Ramaley said. “I basically grew up with him. He’s intense, but it’s always for the best. I think he’s really happy for me because I am also teaching, so it’s kind of like in his footsteps because he was a teacher and coach. He’s also very proud of me that I am coming back and giving back to the community. Coach Lowe cares so much about the program and always will. To have someone that’s an important figure, not only to the program but the water polo community in town, is really cool to know that he has your back.”
And Lowe is excited to see one of his former athletes take over as the man in charge at GHS.
“He brings a tremendous amount of expertise and has a great relationship with the kids on the team,” said Lowe. “They really respect what he offers. I think he has a tremendous regard for the traditions of Greenwich water polo because he’s been a big part of it, both he and his family. He’s dedicated to continue that tradition at the highest level.”
Taking over as head coach of one of the elite programs in the country, and having all eyes on him, has been nerve-racking at times for Ramaley. However, he’s obviously up for the challenge.
“When I played seven years ago, there wasn’t a rivalry in town,” Ramaley said. “Now there’s phenomenal programs like Brunswick that are right there with us. It’s a more competitive sport and there’s more pressure to succeed. We come to win. I told some of my parents that I am super excited, but I’m also super nervous. I’m still young and there’s a lot to learn, but I am excited for the pressure and ready to learn.”
“I think that it’s a wonderful statement when someone that has been a part of it wants to come back and take on the challenge of running the program,” Lowe said. “I’m so proud to have somebody of Jimmy’s caliber come back and take over. I’m excited for him.”
While there’s a new coach in town, don’t expect to see too many changes with the program. Just like Lowe and Vidale, Ramaley said that it’s all about being up-tempo.
“We want to move,” the head coach said. “The swim team helps a lot with that and a lot of these kids swim in clubs from all over Greenwich. These kids can move and that’s really exciting. We had our doubles week last week and I was really surprised with how fast our team is. Similar to Chris the past couple of years, you’re going to see us move up and down the pool fast and you’ll also see me screaming at them if they aren’t moving fast. It’s not going to be one of those slowing it down and take your time teams. It’s going to be on the go all the time. I am excited for that and the kids kind of like that.”
This year’s team will have a much different look to it compared to last year’s squad. There’s not an established go-to person for scoring and the size of the kids in the pool are smaller. However, with only two seniors on the starting roster and a plethora of depth on the roster, that means a bunch of younger athletes are going to help pace Big Red.
“It’s great for the younger athletes because they know that they have to step up,” Ramaley said. “We can build a program with the younger athletes, but there’s also more pressure on them. When I was on the team a couple of years ago, it was tough to be a freshman on the team. Now we have guys that are playing key minutes on the top varsity team. It’s a different dynamic than in the past, but how we have 14-year-old kids that are helping lead the way in some big tournaments.”
Leading the way for Greenwich this season will be captains Mac Baxter and Brian O’Leary. Both are the lone two seniors on a quite young roster.
“It’s awesome to lead this team,” O’Leary said. “I grew up playing in this pool and I look up at all the names that are on the boards around the pool. And now to have my name up there as one of the captains is great. I grew up with Jimmy as my coach for club and he’s been the assistant here the past few years. It’s great to have him the head coach now and we’re going to have a good year with him as a coach. He brings back the Greenwich High School water polo culture and is getting this program back to its roots.”
“It’s a pleasure to be here because there’s been a pretty long line of captains that have been great leaders,” Baxter said. “It’s an honor to lead the team. We are going back to the original system and get back to the tradition that we had here.”
Having the duo as captains couldn’t make Ramaley any happier, as he considers them leaders, both in and out of the pool.
“Brian and Mac have been on the team since day one and have been playing the sport since they were eight,” Ramaley said. “Because they swim for the same summer club, live across the street from each other and have been best friends since they were eight.”
Ramaley added that he loves the dynamic between the two captains.
“One is loud and is going to get everybody motivated and the other is a quiet work horse,” Ramaley said. “They have a good compliment with each other, which is fun. One is always doing his job and the other is constantly talking. But that fits well with me because I have one guy that will lead by example and one guy that’s vocal and always telling the kids what to do. They are both great kids.”
Last season, Big Red relied on Kevin Downey to find the back of the net, as he finished with nearly double the goals of the next highest person on the team. Currently Downey is playing water polo at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. According to Ramaley, he believes that this season the team could have six guys that score 50 goals instead of that one guy that scores over 100 and the next closest is a 30-goal scorer.
“I think Brian [O’Leary] will be a focal point of the offense, but also Charlie Clark, Spencer Plavoukos and Nicky De la Sierra can pick up the slack,” Ramaley said. “I honestly can’t say who is going to be our leading scorer at this point. It could be a sophomore that leads the way or it could be an upperclassman.”
De la Sierra is a junior this year, while both Clark and Plavoukos are starting sophomores.
“There are only two seniors on varsity this year, so we have a lot of young guys that are looking for experience,” O’Leary said. “Having played four years on varsity, I am hoping that I can teach them something and help them out in close games.”
An anchor for the team will be junior Kyle Laufenberg at the goalie position, as the Cardinals will look at his experience and athletic ability to steer the team to victory.
“Kyle’s instinct is amazing,” Ramaley said. “He might not be the basic, fundamental goalie, as he might make a save with his head. But he will keep us in games, particularly home games. He’s an emotional player and that’s fun to have as a goalie. He’s going to have some big games for us. It’s cool to have a goalie like that, who gets very fired up behind you.”
Helping Laufenberg defensively will be Baxter, who is a defensive-orientated player and an anchor on defense. Joining Baxter will be sophomore John Caruso, who is solid at checking and locking down the middle of the pool.
Other athletes that will see a plethora of time in the starting lineup this season will be juniors Tegan D’Agostino and sophomore Thomas Hoffmeister.
Despite the youth and inexperience at the varsity level, the goals are just as lofty. And Ramaley wouldn’t want it any other way.
In addition to defending its own tournament, the Cardinal Tournament, Big Red will also be looking to have a top showing at this year’s Beast of the East Tournament. At the end of the season, Greenwich will once again compete at the Mid-Atlantic championships, traveling down to Navy and playing the top East Coast teams.