After an emotional, sudden-death victory over bitter rival Brown in the semifinals of the Northern Championships this weekend, the Harvard men’s water polo team fell to St. Francis in the program’s first ever Northerns finals, 16-5, yesterday.
After playing two frames of overtime against Brown, the Crimson was ready to end the tense and emotional contest that was heading into sudden death with the teams knotted at 8-8.
With the screams of raucous Brown fans echoing throughout the stands as the ball was dropped into the water, sophomore John Voith dashed to the ball, won the sprint, and took the ball into Bear territory. Co-captain Mike Gerrity drew a valuable ejection to give the Crimson a 6-on-5 power play.
Senior John Lynch then delivered the final blow, netting the winning goal and finally silencing the crowd that had been harassing the Harvard players all game. More importantly, Lynch’s goal secured a place for the Crimson in the championship game against St. Francis.
“We didn’t even give Brown the chance to score,” Voith said, which made the victory especially sweet.
Harvard was unable to control its excitement after the 9-8 win against its most bitter rival, and the whole team jumped into the pool to celebrate, not wanting to leave the water.
Though the Crimson (11-8), physically and emotionally fatigued after the fight against the Bears, dropped the championship game to St. Francis, the loss was eased by the knowledge that a second-place finish is the best that Harvard has ever earned at the Northerns, and a remarkable accomplishment for the squad under first-year coach Erik Farrar.
“It was just awesome to be playing in the championship game,” Voith said. “We all had a real sense of accomplishment.”
In its opening game of the weekend, the Crimson dominated Connecticut College 12-2.
ST. FRANCIS 16, HARVARD 5
St. Francis, arguably the strongest team in the East, was able to offensively overpower the Crimson. Though the teams played competitively for the first half, the Crimson gave in and stopped executing, allowing the Terriers to widen the gap and keep Harvard from threatening its lead.
“We could’ve helped ourselves by keeping the pace of the game,” co-captain Rick Offsay said, “but we just didn’t play as well as we can.”
The Crimson gave St. Francis the opportunity to score easy goals on the counterattack, and the outstanding Terrier squad took advantage of the chances, going on tears and netting several unanswered goals in a row.
“We were so emotionally drained from our win the night before it was difficult for us to play the game,” Voith said.
Harvard’s five goals came from a slew of different players, with Offsay, sophomore Mike Garcia, and freshmen Michael Byrd, Chris Ludwick and Brian Kuczynski all scoring.
HARVARD 9, BROWN 8
In what was by far one of its best games of the season, the Crimson’s victory over Brown in sudden-death overtime—with the Bears’ former coach at its side—boosted the team’s spirits and solidified its camaraderie.
The winning goal from Lynch, his second on the day, gave Harvard the big win it had been hunting for through four seven-minute quarters and two three-minute overtimes. Though Brown was able to tally goals first in the first two frames of overtime, Harvard refused to give in. Kuzcynski scored to push the game into double overtime, while a pass from Gerrity enabled Offsay to put the ball into the net and send the game to sudden death.
“It was the most emotional and crazy game I have played,” Offsay said. “Though we could’ve folded when we were down [in overtime], we stayed together as a team and backed each other up.”
The players and a small coalition of devoted Harvard fans were the only ones pulling for the Crimson in the hostile Brown pool, where fans had to be watched by event staff.
The taunts from the jeering crowd drove the team to play harder. Offsay and Kuzcynski both had two goals in the game, while Gerrity, Voith and Garcia contributed one each. Though goalie Robbie Burmeister was undoubtedly missed by his teammates this weekend—the junior broke his ankle the week prior to the championships and is likely out for the year—sophomore Eric Byrd, who did an outstanding job starting for Harvard, filled his place in the net and helped keep the score close during the match.
“Eric did a phenomenal job,” Offsay said. “I don’t think anyone expected him to play as well as he did.”
Byrd held Brown to just three goals until the fourth period, when the Bears tied it at five to send the game into an extra frame.
HARVARD 12, CONN. COLLEGE 2
With a win over Connecticut College in its first game of Northerns, the Crimson secured its place at the Eastern Championships. “We focused a lot on training after Robbie got injured,” Offsay said. “We knew we couldn’t just tuck our tail between our legs and give in.”
Harvard jumped out to an early lead, enabling the starters to come out of the game and rest up for the contest against Brown later.
While Byrd was able to hold Conn. College to just two goals, the Crimson offense continued its productivity throughout the game. Offsay, Gerrity, Voith Garcia, and junior Andrei Boros each scored two goals, while senior Evan Kaseguma and freshman Paul Kolb notched one.
The Crimson now has two weeks to prepare for Easterns, where it will face Salem International in its opening game.
—Staff writer Megha Parekh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.