MALVERN >> The dynamic duo of seniors Stephen Salle and Isaac Salinas has left a water polo legacy at Malvern Prep that will be hard to match.
This fall, the pair led the Friars (24-1) to the greatest year in the 24 year history of club and varsity water polo at Malvern Prep, capturing the Inter-Ac and 33rd annual Eastern Prep Water Polo Championships as well as defeating PIAA state champion North Penn.
On the individual level, Salinas was Inter-Ac MVP this fall (Salle was Inter-Ac MVP in 2016), and they became the only two three-time All-Inter-Ac players in Malvern Prep water polo history. Salinas is Malvern Prep’s all-time leading scorer, while Salle is second.
To cap it off, both were chosen to play in the 2017 High School Water Polo All-Star Game in Annapolis, Md., last weekend, representing a squad that featured the top 15 prep school water polo players on the east coast (and coached by Malvern Prep head coach Jay Schiller). Salle scored four goals and was named the game’s MVP, and Salinas tallied two goals (one assisted by Salle), as the prep school squad defeated the public high school all-star squad, 7-5.
Next fall, both look to be playing water polo for Division I programs. Salle is committed to the admissions process at Brown, which features a top-20 D-1 program, and Salinas just found out that he made all his clearances for the Naval Academy (all he needs is the nomination), and will enroll at Navy to play water polo.
Playing side by side since eighth grade, the two have developed a lasting bond.
“We’re like Big Bird and the Cookie Monster,” said Salle laughingly.
They’re an imposing duo, with Salle at 6-foot-6 and Salinas at 6-foot-2.
“They both have long arms, which really helps them.,” Schiller said. “Stephen has a wing-span of about 6-8 and Isaac has a wing span of 6-5. I call each of them, ‘Inspector Gadget’ with their Go-Go-Gadget arms.”
Salle, who started at Malvern Prep in sixth grade, was a baseball and basketball player in his younger days. As a young, tall right-handed pitcher for Brandywine Youth Club baseball coach Steve Palis, Salle came to know Schiller, who played linebacker alongside Palis at Lansdowne-Aldan (now Penn Wood) High School and remains a close friend of the Malvern Prep coach.
“Jay would let me practice with the Malvern Prep water polo team in the spring when I was in seventh and eighth grade,” said Salle. “For me that was huge, pivotal. I liked the physicality and intensity of water polo. It was a lot like pitching — I was the guy with the ball.”
Salle plays center defender, which means he not only directs traffic and serves as a quasi-point guard, but he also usually guards the other team’s best player. He holds the Malvern Prep single-season record for both assists (82) and blocked shots. Since middle school, Salle has been one of the best players in his age group on the east coast and has traveled from Annapolis to Connecticut to California in order to improve his game.
“Stephen is a true student of the game,” said Schiller. “He has incredible length with his arms, and he’s often asked to guard the toughest player on the other team, which makes him an unsung contributor. He has really worked at swimming since giving up baseball two years ago.”
Salinas, on the other hand, grew up in the pool, so to speak. His two older brothers, Michael Paul and Aaron, were former Malvern Prep water polo MVPs and went on to play water polo for the U.S. Naval Academy and West Point, respectively.
“Isaac’s been practicing water polo since he was a youth,” said Schiller. “I remember Mrs. Salinas talking about how Isaac would be throwing balls at the couch at home, breaking lamps. Since Isaac could walk he was a strong swimmer — he won a lot of sprint-offs for us this year.”
Salinas, who has attended Malvern Prep since eighth grade, swims the 100 breast and 100 free for the Friars during the winter. His versatility served the Malvern water polo team extremely well this fall.
“Isaac’s ball-handling ability and creativity are phenomenal,” said Schiller. “When the ball is in Isaac’s hands, he’s hard to stop. Even when he’s double- or triple-teamed, he’ll find a way to make his shot. He has such a passion for the game.”
Led by Salinas and Salle, Malvern Prep kept getting better as the season progressed. Following the Friars’ only loss of the season, an 8-7 loss to Brunswick (Conn.) in the Beast of the East semifinals Sept. 23, Malvern Prep captured the Inter-Ac championship with an 8-0 league record; defeated PIAA state champ North Penn 6-5, with sophomore Jack Cassidy scoring the winning goal; and finished first at the 33rd annual Eastern Prep Water Polo Championships, winning every game by at least nine points and taking the championship final by a 16-2 margin in what Salinas said, “was our best game this season.”
Salinas, who scored 17 goals during the Eastern Prep tournament, was named the Eastern Prep MVP. Salle (six goals, 14 assists), Andrew Knaus (11 steals, three goals, and three assists), and goalkeeper Griffin Delaney (62 saves over three games) were all named to the All-Eastern Tournament First Team.
This season, the Friars featured a strong overall senior class, including All-Inter-Ac players Andrew Knaus and co-captain Sean Oates. Knaus, a key defensive stalwart for the Friars, had 21 goals, 20 assists and 40 steals, while Oates (35 goals, 27 assists, 29 steals) was All-Inter-Ac for the second year in a row. Other Malvern seniors included offensive standout Seamus Glynn, driver Jack Leyden, versatile Marty Paulina, utility man Jack Barnes and Patrick McNally-Heinemann, a key man off the bench. Goalkeeper Griffin Delaney had a .707 save percentage and 45 steals.
After finishing Malvern Prep’s season at Easterns, Salle and Salinas headed to the 2017 High School Water Polo All-Star Game, and when asked what they remembered most about the contest, both of them recalled the same play, where they teamed up for a final goal to ice the 7-5 victory.
“The play I remember most is when we were up 6-5,” Salle said. “I saw Isaac drive to the net and I fed him with a pass and he was able to redirect it right into the net.”
Salinas said, “My sharpest memory of the game was receiving a pass from Steve off a drive and batting the ball into the cage. It summed up the last four years playing with him. The best teammate I’ve ever had.”
Schiller said, “These guys were both special players who have meant so much to our program. I’m going to miss the heck out of both of them.”
FUN FACTS: SALLE & SALINAS
Favorite book: To Kill a Mockingbird
Favorite author: Malcolm Gladwell
Favorite TV show: How I Met Your Mother
Favorite movie: Forrest Gump
Favorite athlete: Tom Brady
Favorite pre-meet pump-up song: Beef, by Tee Grizzley
Favorite team: University of Georgia football team
Favorite place to visit: New York City
Favorite pre-meet meal: Wawa hoagie and mangos
Person I most admire: “My mother, she works so hard and is an incredible role model.”
Family members: parents Brice and Michele, sister Sydney (plays volleyball at Bowdoin College in Maine).
Favorite book: Long Way Gone
Favorite author: Ishmael Beah
Favorite TV show: The Office
Favorite TV show: The Bee Movie
Favorite athlete: Wolf Wigo
Favorite pre-meet pump-up song: Africa, by Toto
Favorite team: Sixers (obviously)
Favorite place to visit: Irvine, Calif
Favorite pre-meet meal: Mint gum and fruit
Person I most admire: “Coach Schiller — a great man who taught me the game from when I was little and has stuck by me ever since.”
Family members: parents Paula and Miguel, three older siblings — Crystal (oldest), Michael Paul and Aaron
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