Sports » Men's Water Polo
“The brutality foul requires that the offending player demonstrate obvious intent to injure another player. This is much more serious than mere violence,” the USA Water Polo website reads. “Brutality occurs very rarely.”
Men’s water polo is an aggressive sport, but brutalities aren’t supposed to happen — not at a professional level, not at a collegiate level and especially not at a high school level. The mark Jovan Jeremic bears, however, begs to differ.
The scar that runs down the right side of the rookie’s neck has just begun to fade. Jeremic quite literally bears the mark of his sport’s ruthlessness. In his last summer before beginning to play for Princeton, Jeremic got a preview during a club game of the aggression he would see at the post-high school level of water polo.
“My cap fell backwards, but it was still tied around my neck, so I didn’t do anything,” Jeremic said. “I was swimming with it, and this guy comes up from behind me, grabs it, and starts choking me underwater. I was bleeding. I got out of the water, and I was gushing blood down my neck. It literally looked like I had hung myself.”
Jeremic, who has scored 36 goals for Princeton so far this season, emerged from the incident free of serious long-term consequences, but the offending player was not so lucky. The brutality foul he received meant that, should he get two more, he would not be allowed to play USA water polo ever again, Jeremic said. It was a taste of the physicality that Jeremic saw later that summer when he traveled to Serbia, his parents’ homeland, to practice with the national team.
“It’s a completely different style of water polo,” he said. “It’s more aggressive and a lot more lenient with the calls. It’s more fast-paced.”
Water polo is also much more popular in Serbia.
“It’s sort of like football in America,” said Jeremic, a dual citizen of Serbia and the United States. “You see commercials about it; people get endorsements to advertise water polo. It’s a pretty big thing, actually.”
His grandfather, a huge water polo fan, had schemed with his mother to get Jeremic onto a club team in Huntington Beach in order to improve the basketball skills that Jeremic said he lacked. Water polo would improve his ball control and hand-eye coordination and get him in better shape. As he grew older, though, Jeremic began to see that his career as a basketball player wasn’t going to pan out.
“‘I’m still a diehard basketball fan, but I realized there’s no hope for me,” he said. “I can’t run; I can’t do anything, so I decided to not do land sports. Water only. And the first second I got in the water, I fell in love with the sport, and I’ve loved it ever since.”
A much larger dilemma than basketball or water polo for Jeremic is the United States or Serbia. He says that he gets asked which country he would play for at the national level if given the chance, a question he seriously struggles to answer.
“I mean, I grew up here; I’ve lived here for my entire life,” Jeremic said. “It’s the nostalgia that you want to play for your home country, your ‘motherland,’ but then I think, ‘But I was born here.’ It’s really weird. I don’t know.”
Making the decision to come to Princeton wasn’t always clear cut either. When Jeremic first got an email from the Princeton water polo program his junior year of high school, he had all but completely discounted the prospect of coming to New Jersey.
“I was just like, ‘Nah, Princeton, East Coast, not into that, whatever,’” Jeremic said. “I was really into USC, UCLA, like the big water polo schools, and I was talking to them a lot, and they were recruiting me, and I was really into it.”
The summer between his junior and senior year, however, things changed for Jeremic. “Something clicked,” he said, and he decided that he wanted an excellent academic experience in addition to a strong collegiate athletic team.
“I was like, ‘There’s more to life than water polo.’ And then I got back to the email and started talking to the coach,” he said.
After that it was a no-brainer for Jeremic. Princeton is the closest thing he can get to the best of both worlds, he says — it offers the highest level of academic opportunity and the best water polo program on the East Coast.
“Everything I would see in a team and what a team would do, that’s what we do,” he said. “We hang out together; we eat together; it’s just like this family that I’ve really strived to have in a team.”
The connection he shares with his teammates on land translates into the water. In the Tigers’ Oct. 12 game against Navy, Jeremic put eight goals in the back of the net, tying for the second-highest in a single game in program history and the most in over a decade.
“After you reach a certain point, you read each other’s mind, and that really clicked during that game,” Jeremic said. “I just started receiving the ball at perfect times.”
Though Bucknell ruined Princeton’s perfect Southern Division record on Sunday with a 12-5 win over the Tigers, Jeremic and the No. 12 Princeton squad will be in a good position as they play for the Southern Division Championship on Nov. 9. The Tigers will next play for the Ivy League Championship on Oct. 20, in which they are the first seed.