With just two games left to play in the regular season, the Harvard men’s water polo team found itself in a must-win situation.
Sporting a 4-10 record, the Crimson needed to defeat both Iona and Fordham to earn a higher seed—and consequently an easier first round bout—at the Northern Division Championships.
But Harvard, which has played erratically while trying to adjust to a number of new personnel, had yet to win three games in a row this season.
Junior co-captain Michael Garcia, one of the team’s most prolific and consistent offensive players, helped accomplish just that.
“You know he is giving his all,” junior John Voith said. “I think everyone on the team learns from him just as he plays the game. [With] his experience and general knowledge of water polo, he’s the type of guy where water polo just comes natural to him.”
In the Crimson’s 5-2 win over Iona, some strong defensive play, anchored by Garcia, secured the close win.
Harvard totaled 16 steals in the contest.
The game was close until Harvard took a two-goal lead late in the contest. Freshman David Tune and sophomore Chris Ludwik each netted two scores in the game.
Garcia had his hand in every goal scored, tallying five assists total. He reached three different players—Tune, Ludwick, and Voith—for goals in the crucial win.
“When we have been successful, Mike has been the center of the offense,” captain Robbie Burmeister said.
“He has great game awareness and quickness,” junior Eric Byrd added. “Those two things combined allow him to make a lot of steals on defense and captain our offense. We have a lot of confidence in his ability.”
Riding the momentum from the early game, the Crimson defeated Fordham later that night by a margin of 11-7.
Garcia helped himself to two goals—tied with sophomore Michael Byrd for most on the team—but nine different players scored in all, underscoring the Crimson’s recent offensive resurgence. Under Garcia’s leadership, the team has finally come together.
“Offensively and defensively Mike leads this team,” Voith said. “Our offense depends on him as the left-hander; he’s like the point guard. The way we play is a reflection of Mike leading. The big wins can be attributed to him.”
As a native of the east coast—he graduated from St. Mary’s in Annapolis, Md.—Garcia stands out as one of the few easterners among a team of Californians.
As one of the shorter members of the team, Garcia isn’t your typical water polo player, but his strength and speed enable him to rise out the water and overpower his opponents. And his game is louder than his mouth.
“He is not much of a talker,” Burmeister said. “But when he does talk, everyone really takes it to heart.”
When the team was riding out the ups and downs of its heretofore roller coaster season, Garcia’s consistent play and optimism helped keep the team focused.
“Mike is always positive even when the team is down and has a winning attitude,” Voith said. “Even through losses, people can turn to him to try to gain encouragement.”
As a regular since freshman year, Garcia has helped himself with plenty of experience. In turn, that has helped the team thrive.
“Mikey leads by example,” Voith said. “He is always someone you can count on when he is in the pool.”
Garcia and the Crimson will have more than a week to sit on their three-game win streak.
The team takes the pool next on October 29-30 for the CWPA Northern Championships at MIT.
After another off-weekend, Harvard will stay home for the CWPA Eastern Championships on October 11-12. Blodgett Pool will host the tournament action.