The sport of water polo originated in the 19th century and was played like a form of rugby football in lakes and rivers across England and Scotland.
For novices of the game, which frankly are many in the United States where the sport is still foreign to its mainstream, it can look like a collage of soccer and basketball — just with more chlorine, and often featuring athletes touting a competitive swimming pedigree.
Daniel Hruby, a 2022 graduate of Broomfield High School and a strong swimmer since he was young, was told he’d be perfect for it. And that’s before he knew much about it.
“How I got into it was through a close friend of mine on my summer swim league when I was 11,” Hruby said. “The only thing he kept saying to me was, ‘Dude, you’re huge. You need to start playing water polo. You could totally be good at it.’”
Hruby said that friend was Vaughn Bigelow Jr., who was killed in 2018 at the age of 13 in a shooting in a Westminster dental office parking lot. In part to his memory, Hruby explained, he dedicated himself to the sport across high school, and now into college, where he’ll study and play at Penn State Behrend in Erie, Pennsylvania.
At his college orientation earlier this week, he reflected how everything had led him to this point. How it’s always been about the people in the sport more than the game itself.
“The community,” the 18-year-old said when asked why do a sport without much state or national fandom. “I was just a kid from Colorado who started out just playing three or four tournaments a year and I got to meet some of the most incredible people in my life. Whether it was at the national team selection camp or the Olympic development camp.”
Hruby later joined a travel team called Mountain Premier Water Polo ahead of his 15th birthday, and instead of two or three tournaments a year, it was then more like 20 or 30.
He made room for school athletics too, taking part in swimming and football for Broomfield. His coaches praised his character above anything else.
Eagles swim coach Emily Austin labeled the senior team captain “hard working and energetic”. Hruby’s main focus in the pool had been sprints, something that easily translated to water polo.
On the gridiron, football coach Blair Hubbard said Hruby was the kind of kid who asked tons of questions, always trying to assure he was “schematically and technically right in everything he did.”
Hruby played on Hubbard’s offensive line through his junior season before focusing on water polo during his senior fall.
“It was pros and cons for football,” Hruby said. “With the weight room came leg strength and with all that leg strength it correlated to me being one of the strongest in the pool. … But what football took away from me in water polo was with that huge gain in mass was weight gain. Even though some of it was muscle it kind of decreased my speed and agility in the pool.”
It worked out.
Hruby is the only known 2022 graduate from the BoCoPreps.com area expected to participate in NCAA water polo.
The program he is joining is part of the Collegiate Water Polo Association and is considered Division III. Under longtime coach Joe Tristan, a former top-100 swimmer in the world, the Lions struggled in 2021 and finished without a win.