Tommy McKnew is (hole) set to take on the Navy

Charlie Ginsburg

Growing up, many kids have a natural passion for a sport before they even play it, but for senior Tommy McKnew, it was his boredom and curiosity that brought him to a sport he has come to love: water polo.

Having always been a gifted swimmer, McKnew swam for the Tiburon Peninsula Club (TPC) swim team until fourth grade when he decided he was sick of the same old routine. 

“Eventually [swimming] ends up getting boring,” McKnew said. “I remember at one point we overlapped [practice] times with the water polo team by about half an hour so, in that last half hour of my swim practice, I would watch their first half hour. After seeing them practice I thought, ‘Well that’s a lot more fun than just swimming back and forth.’”

Not only did water polo prove to be more fun for McKnew, but he also quickly found massive success in his newfound sport. After playing for the TPC water polo team throughout middle school, McKnew joined the Redwood varsity water polo team as a freshman, a very rare accomplishment, and later earned a starting spot as a sophomore.

In the 2019 season, McKnew played hole set, the equivalent of center in basketball, and led the team with 76 goals, complemented by 19 assists, according to MaxPreps. According to senior teammate Joey Quirk, much of the team’s offensive strategy revolved around McKnew because of his larger frame and quickness.

Clutching the ball in his right hand, McKnew overlooks the defense as he searches for an open teammate. (Photo courtesy of Tommy Mcknew)

“Our game plan is usually to get the ball to him,” Quirk said. “Hole sets are usually known to be quite slow, but Tommy has the size for the position and also the speed, so we like to get him the ball as our main scorer.”

While McKnew had a plethora of goals this past season for both Redwood and his club team, Steve Lacy, head coach at the San Francisco Water Polo Club and McKnew’s club coach for the past three years, thinks McKnew’s impact on offense is noticeable even when he is not scoring.

“Tommy is a 235 pound 17-year-old, so in the water, it’s very hard to guard him,” Lacy said. “[Opposing teams] have to use multiple defenders to guard him and if they guard him successfully someone else will always be open.”

In addition to being a go-to scorer and assister, Quirk also adds that teammates look up to McKnew as a team leader. 

“We kind of view him as the biggest player in the pool and also outside of it because of his leadership role,” Quirk said.

For his final year on the team, McKnew’s main goal is to establish a permanent winning legacy at Redwood before heading off to the United States Naval Academy (Navy). There, he is currently verbally committed to play collegiate water polo at the Division 1 level.

“We have a lot of younger kids this year who have potential,” McKnew said. “As a leader on this team, I’ve got to help lead the team and establish a mindset of winning and continue some of the success we had last year into this year.”

Lifting himself out of the water, McKnew attempts to deflect an opposing player’s shot. (Photo courtesy of Tommy Mcknew)

The future is bright for McKnew, choosing to play at the Navy is a choice that Quirk believes emulates McKnew’s character.

“It takes a lot of aggressive characteristics and grit to go to a school like that. I think it really shows what kind of person he is and how motivated he is,” Quirk said.

According to Lacy, McKnew’s strength as well as his mindset are two assets that allow him to flourish in games. Lacy believes that as McKnew’s college career approaches, it is these components of his game that will allow him to see significant playing time at the next level.

“You have to really pick up the game plan and the techniques that the coach wants you to use in order to take advantage of the opportunities at the college level,” Lacy said. “His ability to be coachable and listen, and have great attention to detail on fundamentals, coupled with his strength and size is a unique combo that should help him play sooner rather than later.”

Looking towards his future, McKnew is hoping to further improve his game and start a new chapter in his water polo career, all while building relationships that last beyond the sport.

“At a military academy, you have your platoon and your squad that you kind of gain friendships with and I think that’s something I’m excited to be a part of. I’m excited to be at a place like the Navy that has such a deep-rooted history,” McKnew said.