Journey to a Standout Senior Season
Jan. 30, 2008
By Todd Merriett, Bucknell Athletic Communications
It was well into the night on the eve of the first water polo practice of the season and Jason Rechel did not have his gym bag packed. In fact, he wasn't even planning on going. Then, his phone rang. On the other end was the Thomas Worthington High School team captain urging Rechel, up until then only a member of the swimming squad at the Columbus, Ohio, school, to give water polo a shot. The team captain told Rechel, who was just a freshman, to give it a try with no commitment necessary. Rechel loved it and has been absorbed by the sport ever since.
In central Ohio, water polo is not nearly as popular as it is in sunny California, or even on the Atlantic seaboard. Demonstrating that fact, Rechel, who recently completed his senior campaign as a co-captain on the Bucknell men's water polo team, was one of just two Ohio natives on Division I rosters this year. On the other hand, every team in the nation is sure to have a Californian on its roster, and many are made up exclusively of student-athletes from the Golden State.
With the powerhouse California schools not giving him a chance due to his Ohio roots, Rechel, who had never even heard of water polo until seventh grade, targeted Bucknell as his first choice after an outstanding high school career that featured a pair of state championships. He grew up seeing The Bucknellian on his best friend's kitchen counter and was introduced to the school by his friend's mother, an alum of the school.
"I basically lived at my friend's house and she was like a second mom to me," says Rechel about his best friend's mother. "She told me I had to go to Bucknell because they just got this brand new pool. I came out, saw the pool, met Coach Zeigler, saw the campus and fell in love with everything. Bucknell was the first school I visited and I applied early decision. I was pretty much a Bucknell kid all the way."
While Bucknell was Rechel's definite leader, he also visited league rivals George Washington and Johns Hopkins, but came away thoroughly unimpressed by their old fashioned shallow-deep pools.
Much the same way the Thomas Worthington High School water polo team captain was excited to have Rechel join the team four years earlier, Bison head coach John Zeigler, a 1991 Bucknell graduate and former swimmer and water polo player, was thrilled to have Rechel wearing Orange and Blue.
"Jason was the perfect match for our system," remembers Zeigler, who recently left his post as Bucknell's head coach. "He was the right kind of guy for our needs. He was enthusiastic and very fast. We had a reputation of being a slower and more physical team in the old pool, but with the new pool we were looking for more speed and Jason filled that with his accomplished swimming background."
Being a relative newcomer to water polo, Rechel has shown marked improvement each year since arriving at Bucknell. He was a valuable reserve as a freshman and will culminate his career as one of the best players in the East.
A starter in nine games as a freshman, Rechel tallied 16 goals and 15 assists and was among the team leaders with 18 steals. He followed that debut performance by starting all 32 games as a sophomore and registering 38 goals and 14 assists to go along with 26 steals. Those numbers increased again his junior campaign when he totaled 45 goals, 35 assists and 38 steals.
Rechel truly blossomed as a senior, concluding his best season with career-highs in goals (70) and points (102). Additionally, he was among the team leaders in steals (34) and ejections drawn (26).
"Jason has always had skills," praises Zeigler. "Initially he was a little raw, but he has developed year after year and improved his knowledge of the game. He has honed his water polo skills and is much more of an all-around player."
One area where Rechel has been strong in since he first came to Bucknell is sprints. He used his swimming history to his advantage and won more than 160 career sprints. Included in that total was a streak where he won 23 of 30 sprints to open his senior campaign.
"Two things go into sprints," explains Rechel about the play that is similar to a jump ball in basketball, but it happens before the start of each quarter. "First, you have to be fast, and that is sort of a natural thing. Secondly, you have to cheat more than your opponent. The cheating is an art I have been getting better at."
Rechel credits former teammate Jay Danforth '05 with schooling him in the art of cheating on sprints. Among the many ways for a player to cheat is to push off a wall or bottom of the pool, or get a slight headstart before the referee's whistle.
While Rechel has improved every single season, perhaps his biggest leap was between his junior and senior years. He credits a number of factors for the jump, but most importantly it was his busy offseason, which included stops in London, New York City and water polo-crazy Hungary.
Rechel's world travels began last January, when he commenced a semester of studying abroad in London. While there, the economics major took classes on the history of London, a few classes to integrate him into the British culture and a handful of economics classes. In addition to schooling, Rechel tracked down a place to play water polo since he was missing out on Zeigler's offseason practice sessions held in Kinney Natatorium.
To locate water polo in London was not the easiest task, but the small water polo community was a big help. Teammate Mark Masterson's brother played water polo at Harvard and knew someone that helped Rechel land a gig with a team that faced the British National Team.
"Spending the semester in London was great," beams Rechel. "I got to experience a new culture. I got to play water polo against the British National Team. It's not nearly at the level as America, but it was fun. If I played against the U.S. National Team I would probably drown, but following a game against the British team, the coach approached me and asked why he hadn't seen me before and wanted to know if I could train with them."
Following his semester in London, Rechel went to another of the world's major cities: New York. His time there is what he credits with really helping him bring his game to another level this year.
Heading into the summer, Rechel knew he wanted an internship in the financial mecca that is New York City, and Zeigler was able to help him out through connections with Scott Schulte, a 1981 Bucknell graduate and the best player in Bison history.
Schulte recently started his own venture capital private firm and Rechel was charged with helping him set up new clients.
From a water polo aspect, Schulte helped Rechel out as well. The coach of the prestigious New York Athletic Club team, Schulte tutored Rechel most of the summer. Throughout the summer months Rechel worked out at 6 a.m. before reporting to work, and again at 6 p.m. following an intense work day. Those workouts, as well as the practice sessions with NYAC, helped Rechel get into the best shape of his life. Previously, he hadn't played water polo during the summer given his Ohio hometown, where opportunities to play were sparse.
"Scott took me under his wing," says an appreciative Rechel. "He was like a father figure to me. He really helped me out and gave me a unique experience."
While Rechel spent most of his summer in New York City, perhaps the most memorable part of his time away from Bucknell was a two-week stretch in July when he, and the rest of his Bison teammates, took a training trip to Hungary, one of the world's best water polo countries.
"Hungary was awesome," exclaims Rechel. "I had seen the Western European way of things in London, but Eastern Europe is like night and day. Everyone seems impoverished, but they are amazing at water polo. They live to play water polo there. The first team we played had a 13-year-old who was the best player on the team and he would be the best player on our team here at Bucknell."
That trip to Hungary helped the Bison bond as a team both in and out of the pool. The squad had daily training sessions and games, but also had the opportunity to sightsee and explore a foreign place.
"We are all good friends and get along, but being in a completely different setting for two weeks takes team chemistry to a new level," says Rechel, who began to solidify his role as team captain on the trip. "We came out of it better at water polo, better cultured and more unified as well."
The cohesiveness that developed on that trip was especially evident at the beginning of the 2007 season when Bucknell sprinted to a 9-1 record and a No. 11 national ranking, the highest in program history.
Rechel can only hope his final college summer will be as beneficial to his professional financial career as it was to his final water polo campaign.