Rookie Ben Zepfel has established himself as an integral part of Harvard’s offense with a team-high 49 goals. But after a recent string of losses, the Crimson will look to rebound against Brown on Thursday.
Less than a week after finishing up a 0-5 California road trip, the Harvard men’s water polo team (12-11, 4-0 CWPA) is looking to bounce back and return to its winning ways when it takes on Brown Thursday night at Blodgett Pool.
But the task of taking down the No. 12 men’s team in the country will be a tall order for the Crimson. The Bears enter Thursday night’s contest riding a nine-game winning streak and have gotten off to a hot start this season, going 17-2 overall and a perfect 4-0 in CWPA play.
“[Brown] is very good,” Harvard coach Ted Minnis said. “They are a very talented and very experienced team. They’ve played very well all year long. This is a team that is in a good position to go to NCAAs this year.”
Senior center Svetozar Stefanovic has been a tremendous source of offense thus far for the Bears, netting a team-high 66 goals. Stefanovic was named the CWPA Northern Division Player of the Week on Sept. 26.
Brown sophomore attacker Henry Fox has added 55 goals and has twice earned CWPA Northern Division Player of the Week honors this season, while freshman utility Will Klein, who has tallied 14 goals and 10 assists, was named the Northern Division Rookie of the Week last week.
But the Crimson hopes to end the Bears’ hot streak Thursday night at home. Despite its current six-game skid, Harvard has had a successful season thus far. A nine-game winning streak, the team’s first since 2002, catapulted the Crimson to a 12-6 record in September.
“I’m really happy with our season thus far,” Minnis said. “The 0-5 record in California obviously on paper looks bad, but the level of competition we were playing was really high. I think we are definitely playing better than when we left for California.”
Harvard played three teams ranked in the top 10 in the country on their California road trip. The experience of playing against elite squads will only serve to help the young Crimson squad as it prepares to take on its conference foes.
“The west coast teams tend to have a little bit of a different attack,” junior goalie Jimmy Field said. “[It’s] potentially a little bit more similar to what Brown does, so that gives us some experience.”
The highly touted freshmen class has been a source of offensive firepower for Harvard this season. Freshman two-meter Ben Zepfel leads the team with 43 goals thus far. Fellow first-year attacker Blake Lee has netted 37 goals while also posting a team-high 28 assists and 35 steals. In total, the freshman class has scored 149 of the team’s 242 goals this season.
Minnis is quick to stress that the team’s youth does not affect their mentality when they hit the water.
“At some point you have to get over that we are a very young team,” Minnis said. “We are halfway through our season. You can’t be making the same mistakes as you were making at the beginning. You have to grow and learn from your mistakes. If not, you’re not doing your job.”
“We are kind of moving away from that ‘being young’ thing, and we have to just be accountable for what we are doing,” Minnis added.
Brown bested the Crimson both times the teams met last season. In their first match-up of last season, the Bears topped Harvard 11-4 at Blodgett Pool. At the Ivy League Championships, Brown once again claimed a decisive victory, cruising to a 15-5 win.
Keys to a successful outcome for the Crimson in Thursday night’s competition will be sticking to the game plan and learning from its own recent string of games against highly ranked opponents.
“We are just trying to make sure we are all on the same page,” Field said. “We want to make sure we come in with intensity coming off our trip in California having played some really good teams, learning from that and using that against Brown.”
“If we are going to have success against [the Bears] in the pool on Thursday we have to definitely play Harvard water polo,” Minnis said. “We can’t try to play Brown water polo. If we try to play Brown water polo, they’re going to kill us because that’s what they do. We have to do what we do and play our style of water polo and hopefully have some success doing that.”