Last weekend, the Harvard men's water polo team opened the season with its first win over Brown in eight years, proving that it is finally on an even keel with its Ivy rival.
This weekend was a sobering reminder that the term "even keel" also suggests the possibility of the occasional defeat.
No. 14 Harvard lost to Brown, 5-3, to begin an 0-2 weekend at the Brown Invitational. The Crimson (3-3, 0-0 Collegiate Water Polo Association) concluded the trip with a 12-7 loss to No. 13 UMass.
"We really didn't play well," Harvard Coach Jim Floerchinger. "There were some good aspects to what we did this weekend, but we were pretty flat for the most part."
Harvard showed signs of fatigue early in the second game. The Crimson was shut out in the opening quarter by the Minutemen, 4-0.
Harvard actually fired more shots on goal than UMass (7-2) during that stretch, but failed to convert the opportunities it had.
"Part of it was that we were coming off the Brown loss," captain Tom Elke said. "The first quarter wasn't up to the level we had played in the preseason at all."
Harvard showed some resilience in the second quarter, matching UMass' two goals to stay within striking distance.
However, UMass opened the second half with yet another scoring barrage, running off another 4-0 quarter in the third. Minuteman goalkeeper J.R. VanderWall stifled the Crimson defense on his way to a 12-save game.
"We pretty much showed up waiting for the game to come to us," Floerchinger said. "We know what we're capable of, and really didn't approach it at any point in these games."
The Crimson was more competitive in the fourth quarter. In the final frame, Harvard outscored the Minutemen, 5-2, and salvaged something from an otherwise disappointing weekend.
UMass junior Adam Moore finished with a hat trick, and two other Minutemen added two apiece.
Istvan Zollei was spectacular in defeat. The sophomore driver scored five goals in Harvard's losing effort.
"I thought that we still proved that we could play with them," Elke said. "Take away the first quarter, and we've got a game. The next one will be a big test, and we're looking forward to it."
Elke and the Crimson won't have to wait very long. The third chapter in the Crimson's season-long Minuteman marathon will take place next week at Blodgett Pool.
It will come on the day of the team's first CWPA games and, according to Floerchinger, the first matches of any real consequence.
"The rest of these games have basically been tune-ups for us," Floerchinger said. "We've geared our practices more in preparation for those, and there are a few tricks we've been saving up for the rest of the league that we haven't used yet."
In the first game, Brown (2-4) gained a measure of revenge for the loss a week earlier. The Crimson's depth kept it close, as the team continued to effectively rotate men in frequently against Brown.
"We definitely wore them down," Elke said. "That worked pretty much as well as it did in the other game."
However, the Crimson offense did not deliver at key moments in the game. Harvard failed to capitalize on a number of fast breaks, including several one-on-none opportunities.
"We came into the game after a week of tough practices, and they can take their toll," Floerchinger said of the team's continued four hour per day practice schedule.
"It isn't like we were looking past Saturday, but in reality, that's the way our practices work out. We're looking at the bigger games."
Sophomore goalkeeper Paul Tselentis started both games, as junior Gresham Bayne withdrew from Saturday's action due to back spasms.
Driver Mike Masterson scored two goals for Harvard.
The team will open the Northern Division schedule next weekend against Boston College and host MIT before the action moves outbound on the red line. Harvard will then host UMass at 7 p.m.