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Schwab: St. Charles East boys water polo's Fagen’s pool plunge yields scholarship

Published: Saturday, May 4, 2013 5:34 a.m. CDT

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Nick Fagen is over baseball – at least, as it pertains to high school sports.

Fagen, the rare teenager who cruises around town listening to Cubs games on radio, has worshiped baseball since he was a small boy, and consequently was crushed his freshman year at St. Charles East when he was cut from the baseball team.

“My heart just sank,” Fagen said. “I was so upset, and I went out by the Norris Center and, this is kind of embarrassing, and I cried. I was so upset.”

Looking for a new spring pasttime, Fagen gave boys volleyball a try freshman year. He liked it, but was lobbied extensively by one of his friends, Ian Salveson, to come out for water polo.

As a sophomore, he took the plunge, with no experience and scant knowledge of the sport.

Not surprisingly, in his own words, he was “absolutely horrible” at the beginning.

“I’d come home every day complaining to my mom,” Fagen said. “I’d keep trying but I was bad.”

So Fagen made a bold move, approached the Saints’ coach at the time, Sean Markovic, and asked if he could shift to the goalkeeper position.

“He said ‘You know what, go ahead, Nick,’ ” Fagen recalled. “After school that day I jumped in [at goalie] and I just heard all the kids say ‘He’s so good.’ Everybody was just so supportive of me from then on, and I just rose up to the top.”

Two-plus years later, Fagen has jumped on an offer to play water polo in college, and he can hardly believe it.

In late April, Fagen accepted a partial athletic scholarship offer to play men’s water polo at Gannon University (Pa.), a Division II program. Gannon’s recruitment unfolded quickly.

“I was just really stressed out because I thought I’d have more time to decide,” Fagen said. “I have to go away from home and be farther away from my friends and my girlfriend. I just didn’t know if I wanted to go there because I’d only visited once and I kind of liked other colleges but then I began to think what will happen if I don’t go. … Although I did think I would get other [scholarship offers], there was no guarantee of that.”

Fagen, one of the team’s captains, and the Saints are nearing the end of a tumultuous season. First-year coach Jaclyn Weber resigned midseason, citing disrespectful behavior on the part of some team members, and the Saints’ season was halted for a week as school officials scrambled to put a new coach in place.

The Saints concluded the regular season this week and are scheduled to compete against Metea Valley on Tuesday in a Neuqua Valley Sectional matchup. Fagen said the season’s odd trajectory has made him “more emotionally connected” to the team.

“This team means the world to me,” Fagen said. “I’m really going to miss it.”

These days, the former pitcher and first baseman can’t say the same about playing baseball. Time – and an unforeseen new path – has healed those wounds.

“I’ve seen one game,” Fagen said of the Saints’ baseball team. “I went and saw one game last year but I have emotionally detached because I found a team that I like more now, and when I think about it now, I thought I was good at baseball, but I think water polo got me way further than baseball ever could.”

• Jay Schwab is sports editor of the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5382 or jschwab@shawmedia.com.

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