It’s not easy to bounce back from a quadruple-overtime loss to a league opponent.
But the Harvard men’s water polo team overcame the challenge. Keyed by a strong defensive effort, the Crimson (4-8, 0-2 CWPA North) defeated MIT (5-3, 2-0), 10-8, at Blodgett Pool on Saturday in a matchup that did not count towards conference standings.
In the process, Harvard avenged its loss to the Engineers earlier in the season.
“Last week, the game against Iona...that stung a lot,” junior Mike Katzer said. “MIT I would say probably is our biggest rival...it felt really good to get this win for us.”
The contest represents the 90th matchup between the two squads, with the Crimson having beaten the Engineers 73 times.
Of late, the matches have been close. In 16 of the last 18 meetings, the winning team has prevailed by a margin of three goals or less.
The first contest earlier this season typified the tough battles between the two Cambridge teams. Down 5-0 at halftime, Harvard fought back, tying the game at 6-6 before giving up what proved to be the deciding goal with just minutes left in regulation.
Saturday’s match seemed to be headed in the same direction after MIT scored within the first four minutes of the first period. But the Crimson answered, scoring two goals in the next three minutes. Harvard did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the game.
The Crimson added eight goals in the second and third periods, while the Engineers found the back of the net only five more times.
Entering the final period down four goals, MIT mounted a late charge, scoring twice. Nevertheless, Harvard held on to win by a two-goal margin.
The Crimson defense played a key role in the victory, stifling the Engineers’ front line for much of the game. Junior co-captain Luka Babic and senior Alex Thompson led the team with four steals.
“We made it tough for them to move the ball,” Harvard coach Ted Minnis said. “We made it tough for them to get the ball where they wanted to get it, and that’s the key. That’s how I want to play, and the guys are doing that.”
“I think today was a total team defensive effort,” Katzer added. “The major thing about water polo is everyone feeds off each other’s energy. You look into your teammates’ eyes, and everyone’s up in the lanes pressing hard, and it just gets you going.”
Junior goalkeeper Alexandre Popp once again led Harvard’s defensive effort. After tallying 21 saves in the team’s quadruple-overtime loss against Iona, Popp added seven more against MIT, bringing his season total to 103.
“[Popp] had a great game for us,” Katzer said. “As a player in the field, you feed a lot off your goalie. He makes a big block, he gets you up, and you’re going to be countering that much harder.”