During Saturday’s game against No. 17 Cal Baptist, Harvard men’s water polo senior goalie Alex Popp was pitted against a countering, undefended attacker sprinting directly toward him at the end of the first half.
“There were 15 seconds left in the half—I knew it was do or die,” Popp said.
After falling behind 4-1 in the quarter, the Crimson had caught up to Cal Baptist, knotting the score at five goals. Now, with one of the nation’s best players racing toward him, Popp recognized the importance his save would mean to the team morale going into halftime.
Knowing the Lancer only had time for a pump fake and a shot, Popp pumped his legs furiously from inside the goal.
Once the shot was fired, Popp flung out his arm and blocked the cross-cage shot, only to look up and see a mere three seconds left on the clock and a tied game still on the board.
“Those are the saves that, as a goalie, you live for,” Popp said. “Going into halftime if they had gotten another goal and I had let them get ahead of us, it would have been devastating. Instead, we went into halftime knowing we could stick with these guys.”
Harvard held onto that momentum in the third quarter, keeping pace with Cal Baptist right until the closing minutes of the game.
Although the Lancers pulled ahead in the end to defeat the Crimson 13-9, Popp’s performance was recognized as an essential factor in Harvard’s ability to challenge a top-ranked team.
“The Cal Baptist game was really just ‘The Alex Popp Show,’” said Popp’s roommate, senior attacker Evan Zepfel.
The game against the Lancers was the second for the Crimson at the MIT Invitational this past weekend, a matchup that came after Harvard trounced host MIT 13-5.
The Crimson’s offense was characterized by a solid team effort, with eight different players scoring over the two games.
However, on the defensive end, Popp proved himself to already be a rising star on the team at this early point in the season.
With 18 saves on the weekend—including three one-on-one saves like the first-half closer in the Cal Baptist game—Popp formed the backbone of the defense and earned the award for Collegiate Water Polo Association Defensive Player of the Week.
“He played consistently the whole time,” head coach Ted Minnis said. “He kept shutting down their counter…giving us the ability to take a little more chances.”
“He’s going to allow us to do so many things this year in our defense that we weren’t able to do last year,” Minnis added.