Swimming Past Borders with Lovre Milos

When Croatia won gold at the 2012 Olympics, Lovre Milos was at home watching the game with his cousin.

Now Milos’s cousin is playing water polo for the Croatian Olympic team in 2016, and Milos is ripping through the Men’s Water Polo Mountain Pacific Sports Federation as a driver for the UC Irvine team. He was named Player of the Week on Sept. 8 and is inching closer and closer to achieving a record of 88 shots this season.

“After high school, I took a year off and was home playing water polo. That year we won third place in the European Championships. That same year was the Olympics. I know and played with a lot of the guys that were in the 2012 London Olympics water polo team,” said the 6’5”, 176 lbs Croatian water polo player.

Milos grew up in Zagreb, the capital of Croatia.

“It is a big city in Croatia, but barely a million people. It is a nice city, old culture and a nice area to grow up in. I loved it,” said Milos.

Growing up near the Adriatic Coast, Milos vacations on the coast, where his father was born.

“I don’t really go into the water, because I am in the water the whole year,” said Milos with a laugh. “But it really is beautiful.”

Milos’s water polo journey is similar to that of any young, driven athlete. Milos sacrificed school field trips and childhood fun because of his rigorous practice program.

One of his favorite memories related to his country is when he was playing in Croatia and his team became European champions.

“We won the gold medal right there in front of our people – all of our parents were there,” Milos said. “We won 9-8; it was a super close game.”

In Croatia, getting a higher education while playing competitive water polo is not possible, but Milos emphasizes that being able to come to America to do both has made all of the childhood sacrifices worth it. According to the talented player, water polo is not as popular the European staple sport, soccer, otherwise known as football.

Courtesy of UCI Athletics

Courtesy of UCI Athletics

 

Living in the U.S., Milos says he has a strong connection to American food, especially burritos and bagels. “We don’t have those at home… I love them! I eat them all the time, although I know I shouldn’t.”

The athlete also admitted that one of his favorite moments since coming to the U.S was returning to Disneyland, which reminded him of the childhood visit he took with his mom.

Currently, Milos is a second-year business economics major at UCI, which he stated “gives [him] the biggest spectrum of possibilities.”

Due to the cold winters, most of the pools in Croatia were indoors. According to Milos, there are some notable differences between pools.

“For example, in Australia we played in the sea. It was really cool and something new, but our eyes burned because we weren’t used to [the salt water],” said the water polo player.

With technology, Milos is able to speak with his family once or twice a week, and he returns home for summer and winter vacation. He pinpoints his uncle as having the greatest impact on his water polo career.

“My uncle has three Olympic medals. His son and I started playing together.”

The athlete recalled how much fun he had competing with his cousin. “My uncle made us both better,” he said.

The UCI men’s water polo team (15-11 Overall, 2-6 MPSF) practices four hours a day, both in the morning and at night. Milos says that he would rather swim for a full day than tread water, and he prefers to play offense in the drill 6 on 5.

Playing in a U.S. league is different, because the pool is shorter in length and there is a sudden death round instead of the European shootout during a tied game. Milos admitted that it was difficult adjusting, because the game is less physical in the U.S. than in Europe.

“At first I was getting called out by referees, who make completely different calls then I was used to.”

Last year, Milos played for UCLA men’s water polo team, but transferred because the coach did not honor an agreement.

“I had a good friend from Serbia, who was the assistant coach of UCI at the time. He told me to come here to UC Irvine and try to make something special. I like the team a lot. We have a lot of time left together. We will only get better.” Milos stated.

To construct a great water polo team, Milos believes in three key positions: a guard, goalie and center. “No player is more important than the other, the three are just a skeleton,” stresses Milos.

Before a game, Milos says that he listens to a Croatian song that puts him in the mood and pumps him up emotionally.

“It brings back old memories and gets me ready.”

Milos is confident in the ability of the UCI men’s water polo team. They train year-round in the pool and in the weight room.

“Anything I do, I want to win. When I don’t want to practice, I tell myself it’s not that cold outside. I don’t think there is anyone who is better than our team. I can see us beating USC, Berkeley and UCLA to win a NCAA championship.”

Milos has hopes to play for the future Olympic Croatian team after he graduates, as well as aspirations to play water polo professionally. However, as the U.S. only has a collegiate league, Milos would have to move back to Europe to seek out his professional career.

In the coming years, sophomore Milos will be a strong Croatian force leading the men’s water polo team through the hardest collegiate league in the U.S.