After winning a game and taking ninth overall at the ECAC Championships at Princeton last Sunday, the Harvard men’s water polo team (4-8, 2-0 CWPA Northern Division) was ready to build on its first conference victory. The chance to do so came on Saturday with its matchup against Queens (2-9, 0-4), another Northern Division opponent. The Crimson defeated the Knights, 12-7, remaining undefeated in conference play.
“I think the whole team was happy to stay undefeated in the conference and to carry some momentum into California,” co-captain Egen Atkinson said.
Atkinson scored two goals in Harvard’s winning effort against Queens.
Rookie Max Eliot led the Crimson attack with a career-high five goals, in addition to three steals and four drawn ejections.
“We were just clicking as a team,” Eliot said. “My goals did not come from some amazing individual performance. Our offense just provided me with opportunities and I was able to capitalize on them.”
“Max has been playing well all year and something just clicked today,” said junior co-captain Bret Voith, who also scored in the game. “The first two goals really opened up our offense; opportunities opened up for everyone. I recognized that Max and others were playing really well. I just tried to take advantage.”
Voith was successful in his attempt, recording five assists in addition to his goal.
Harvard pulled together a balanced game on offense and defense. Seven Crimson players were able to score, and sophomore Alexandre Popp notched 15 saves in Harvard’s defensive effort.
“Their team had a few extremely strong offensive shooters,” Voith said. “[Popp] did a great job of recognizing the strengths of Queens’ shooters.”
“[Popp] made big stops and it was what we needed,” Eliot added. “It was a good win. It wasn’t a perfect game by any means; there are definitely a lot of things that we can work on.”
The Crimson seems to have taken the preseason losses it suffered early and turned them into motivation.
“We made a real effort to learn from our early losses,” Voith said. “We played a very strong schedule in the beginning of the year...It’s a good feeling to start off 2-0 in the league even though we struggled a bit in our first games.”
“We’re definitely on track to where we want to be in conference-championship tournament time in November,” Voith added. “These two wins help solidify in our minds that we’re moving in the direction where we want to be, that we can compete and will compete.”
Harvard had a record of only 3-8 coming into Saturday’s game, having suffered tough losses to George Washington, No. 11 Princeton, No. 16 Santa Clara, and divisional opponent Fordham. But the team’s resilience allowed it to bounce back from its slow start.
“We haven’t taken [the losses] as ‘things aren’t going well,’” Eliot said. “We’ve learned from those things and have been working really hard on them during practice.”
“I think the team attributes those [losses] to problems in our mentality going into games,” Atkinson said. “I think that’s improved tremendously. We used those games to sharpen our focus, which allowed us to win today. It’s good to get two wins against conference opponents who deserve our respect.”
With this win under its belt, the Crimson is looking to the Claremont Convergence tournament in California, which starts Friday. There, Harvard will take on a number of West Coast opponents.
“We’re going to continue to work on those fundamentals,” Eliot said. “The more we work on that, the better our games will be. That’s really important; we have to win our games so we can get a good seed.”