For North Allegheny water polo, it's all about being aggressive.
Aggression helped pave the road to victory for the Tigers in their state championship game victory, a 12-9 decision against Cumberland Valley on Nov. 3.
Midway through the third quarter of that game, North Allegheny center Max Staresinic had the ball in scoring position when Cumberland Valley chose to foul him and stop the clock. This only amplified North Allegheny's aggressive attitude, however. Cumberland Valley's foul put the Tigers in a man-up situation.
"There were six of us against five of them," said North Allegheny coach Nikola Malezanov. "They had to drop back and play zone."
Like sharks on a feeding frenzy, the Tigers attacked Cumberland's goal. Their passes drew defenders as Staresinic readied himself for the right target. It came off senior captain Rob Clinger's pass that Staresinic fired a direct hit and scored a momentum-swinging goal.
"That play was executed perfectly ... like it was drawn on the table or the board," Malezanov recalled. "It put our momentum up. Everybody in the water participated and did exactly what they were supposed to do."
North Allegheny had been ahead 7-1 at halftime, but the Tigers widened the gap to 11-3 by the end of the third.
According to Malezanov, there are about 40 water polo teams in Pennsylvania, and only one in the WPIAL area. So teams have to travel to get together.
The Tigers' 2012 tournament schedule reads like a Pennsylvania Tourbook: Reading, Mechanicsburg, Erie ... And even after playing a 22-game regular season, it's likely that teams that have matched up three times already will meet in the playoffs.
"There are four divisions and two conferences," Malezanov said. "Three teams per division go to the conference tournament."
In other words, season records dictate the top three teams per division. At that point, those 12 teams can play in their respective conference tournaments -- either Eastern or Western.
"Being one of the top four teams in each of the conferences takes you to the state tournament," said Malezanov.
Basically, North Allegheny emerged as one of the top four teams in the Western Conference. The Tigers then played North Penn and Cathedral Prep of Erie in order to face Cumberland Valley in the state championship match.
The Tigers' roster now includes seven all-state players. All-State team selections are based on the votes of all of Pennsylvania's water polo coaches.
Staresinic, Clinger and sophomore goalkeeper Charles Ross were all listed as first team. Senior 2-meter defender Dom Caputo was selected to the second team, while senior utility player Steven Siclari and senior center Alex Shaffer were listed as third team. Junior utility player Gabe Gaspar was named to the team as an honorable mention selection.
"I think they matured a lot [this season] and realized they had a good opportunity," Malezanov said.
He noted that many of the North Allegheny boys had participated in a Junior Olympics- sponsored tournament in August at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. The North Allegheny Club placed 17th out of 400 teams in that competition.
Malezanov felt the experience fed the Tigers' confidence straight through the 2012 season.
"It allowed them to experience high level water polo and helped them to reach what they reached this year in Pennsylvania," he said.
AFC North standings
Team W L T Pct Div
Ravens 5 1 0 .833 2-0
Bengals 3 3 0 .500 1-2
Steelers 2 3 0 .400 0-0
Browns 1 5 0 .167 1-2