THE MALIBU TIMES Athlete of the Week: Andrew Milcovich, Pepperdine University, Men’s Water Polo

Andrew Milcovich. Photo by Dick Dornan / TMT

Patience is a virtue. Andrew Milcovich, a fifth-year senior on the Pepperdine men’s water polo team, proved the old adage right once again with his play in the pool this year.

Milcovich faced the toughest decision of his career after an injury-plagued 2009 season. He had played through his entire junior year in pain after injuring his shoulder against UCLA during his sophomore season in 2008.

He had two options. He could go ahead with his final year of water polo with a weak shoulder, looking ahead to graduation and law school on the immediate horizon. Or, he could go under the knife for an operation that would keep him out for the 2010 season but repair his shoulder in time for the following year.

Milcovich, 22, chose the latter. After undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in Feb. 2010, he redshirted the 2010 season to rehabilitate in the hopes of having a big year in 2011. Milcovich’s perseverance carried him through what proved to be a difficult six months of rehabilitation.

“An extra year of rehab was very tedious. It was pretty frustrating,” said Milcovich, who now wears No. 6 on his cap representing how many months he was out of the pool. “When you get something taken away from you that you love, you finally realize how much it’s worth when you don’t have it anymore. Sitting out and watching water polo and not being able to be in the pool lit a new fire under me.”

The move paid dividends for both the fifth-year senior and his team, as he was named a co-captain entering the season.

Milcovich repaid the team’s faith by finishing the year second on the team with a career-high 40 goals and a team-leading 26 assists. The early season NorCal Tournament at the University of the Pacific was a personal highlight. Milcovich led the Waves to fifth place with a 3-1 mark by scoring eight goals against strong competition. Pepperdine finished the year at 12-14, an improvement on the 2010 team that went 9-18.

“Our season has been good in comparison to last year,” Milcovich said. “We’ve really grown and matured a lot.”

A talented player, Milcovich feels this year validated his decision to come to Pepperdine. He chose the Waves over scholarship offers from UCLA, USC and California because of what he called the program’s “close-knit community.” He credits that closeness with pulling him through the long, arduous process of recovery. “The guys have been great,” Milcovich said. “The whole team has been very caring and these guys are my best friends. I love them all. During my toughest of times, they kept my spirit up. They wouldn’t let me get down. I know they are happy for me to be here but I am glad that I stayed to be with them.”

The Waves concluded their season last week at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament. While one chapter of his life closed, another one will soon open as Milcovich looks to attend law school or maybe play overseas in Hungary, Australia or Italy.

“You can’t get an experience like this,” said Milcovich, who is double majoring in economics and political science. “It’s once in a lifetime. I think this season was a great learning experience. I made the right decision and have enjoyed my last year.”