Tim Simenc could be forgiven for his lack of familiarity with water polo growing up. After all, he’s from Texas.
The sport is popular on both coasts but doesn’t have much of a pedigree anywhere near Highland Park, where the tall left-hander seemed destined to excel in swimming, baseball, volleyball, or lacrosse. Water polo wasn’t on the list.
Yet now the St. Mark’s senior has become one of the top high school players in the country in a sport that he admits he began almost by accident.
It’s something he couldn’t have imagined when he was introduced to water polo in a fifth-grade physical education class.
“I played my first game and loved it,” said Simenc, who earned a college scholarship to join the perennial powerhouse team at the University of California this fall. “I was on this team that kept beating everyone. Everyone was kind of letting me shine.”
By seventh grade, Simenc knew he had to choose a single sport on which to concentrate in the spring. He picked water polo.
Later that year, he applied for a camp at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., and tried out for the Olympic Development Program regional team.
“Being able to stay a week at the training center was just mind-boggling. That was the start of where I wanted to be,” Simenc said. “I knew I was athletic, but I didn’t know how far I could take it.”
He didn’t earn a spot on the team on his first try, but made an impression on coaches and fellow players. Simenc finally made the cut for the U.S. youth
national team last year, allowing him to travel to the FINA Youth World Championships in Turkey.
Simenc became only the second Texan ever to make the squad.
Simenc won’t be a stranger to California when he heads to college. He spent last summer playing with the Lamorinda Water Polo Club near Oakland.
And in February, he was one of two high school players to compete with the New York Athletic Club in the USA Water Polo National League, which is part of the selection process for the U.S. Olympic Team.
At St. Mark’s, Simenc has been named a first-team All-American and a Texas state MVP. Longtime Lions coach Mihai Oprea credits Simenc’s physical tools, work ethic, and family support.
“He’s been working hard since seventh grade. It didn’t happen overnight,” Oprea said. “He’s a good athlete, and he developed a passion for the sport.”
Simenc sees no reason why others in his home state can’t experience the same passion and turn Texas into fertile recruiting ground for young players.
“I see all these kids who have potential. It just takes a little spark, for a few guys to have the opportunity that I’ve had,” Simenc said. “I don’t want to be the best water polo player in Texas. I want someone to surpass me, and for people to keep getting better and better.”