It tends to be an athlete’s general aspiration to play at the varsity level. One could describe this achievement as satisfying one’s personal needs, impressing friends and parents, and worthy of mentioning to colleges across the nation. Though the success toward this ambition is strenuous but gratifying, there is one student – a freshman – who has achieved this varsity level through his prior hard work and dedication: James “JT” Kujawa.
Reaching the milestone of making the Varsity Water Polo Team was not one of pure ease, but rather one of challenge, dedication, and much experience. JT spent his middle school years and summer, “playing 14s for [his] club team,” and his experience has shown remarkable results, “I feel very privileged to play on this team, or even play water polo.”
A varsity roster usually names juniors and seniors and an occasional talented sophomore. Rarely do freshmen find a spot because most have only recently been exposed to the high school athletic atmosphere. JT’s water polo background was never as demanding as that of varsity team, but his adaptation to the high-school-level shines. “Prior, I was used to a team that always was winning, and I wanted the same experience from Bellarmine and my other choice would have been St. Francis,” Kujawa said.
Another freshman who played on varsity during the 2015 season, Dominic Kirk ’19, narrates his own experience as well, “Compared to the past experiences of water polo, it was really competitive, and playing with a bunch of seniors and juniors was a lot of work, but it paid off in the end.”
JT’s outstanding ability to prosper within a varsity team also earns much acclaim from his teammates. Phillip Wang ’17, the team captain of the varsity water polo team said, “JT has been a real help to us, he was starting at one point in the season actually because we really needed a center, and he’s put up big goals against St. Francis and all of our big games.”
Nevertheless, there are always challenges in playing a sport at any level, and JT has also shown immense perseverance through his hard work and support from his peers.
“I have to come to Bellarmine at five in the morning to do water polo practice then, and then don’t come home until like 8:00PM, I get really tired after playing. Doing homework is a huge priority, but I can’t really do that much” JT said.
Phillip Wang said, “There are some challenges; the main challenge is seeing the other guy struggling maybe more than you in some of the conditioning, because they are just not as physically mature yet … it’s definitely hard to watch that but [JT’s] doing a lot better than I would in their situation.”
Being the Bellarmine Brotherhood that we are, JT never failed to receive guidance from his peers. “My teammates help me a lot by supporting me throughout the way and giving me helpful tips, since the past freshmen who are now sophomores also taught me what it [varsity water polo] is kind of like too,” JT said.
As the athletic body is one, JT has earned support and morale from his coaches as well, “The best way is to not treat him too much differently. “Obviously, being a freshman, you want to give him [JT] a little bit more air because he hasn’t had experience as doing much before, but at the same time I have to hold him to the same standard as I do the sophomores, juniors and seniors” Coach Mello said.
This type of encouragement and continuity in training has assisted JT in developing into a well-rounded athlete at Bellarmine.
Ultimately, JT’s tenacity is what has decided his successful water polo career. “He’s gotten a little bit more physically ready to play at the varsity level. He swam hard on the swim sets to get himself ready for the speed at varsity, he’s worked hard in the weight room to get strong enough to compete at this level,” Coach Mello said.
As a freshman with a long career ahead of him on the varsity water polo team, Kujawa has the confidence of his coaches and teammates in addition to his own to help him find greater achievements.
Coach Mello said, “Going forward, we’re gonna want to be able to play him at just about every position in the pool besides goalie, and that’s my hope, that we can develop all of his skills and maximize him so that we can put him anywhere so he can help us the most.”
“I hope to get out of this year as much learning as I can— a good learning experience for years to come and hopefully CSS title.” JT himself said.
JT’s hard work, both through physical and mental preparation, and his ambitious mindset to excel on his varsity position, has exemplified both the true commitment of an athlete as well as his way of contributing his gifts and ability to the Bellarmine community.
The Memorial Cup is making a splash on campus all weekend.