After dropping both its games last weekend against St. Francis and Mercyhurst, the Harvard men’s water polo team ended the regular season on a nine-game losing streak. The Crimson, which finished third in the CWPA Northern Division, plays in the Ivy Championships this weekend at Yale.
Although Harvard (12-14, 4-2 CWPA) ended the season on a skid, the streak included five losses in the Gary Troyer Tournament that all came against nationally ranked teams.
The Crimson’s past nine opponents included five top-20 teams and a top-5 squad in the No. 2 University of California-Santa Barbara.
“I think that we are better than we were before we left for California,” Harvard coach Ted Minnis said. “We don’t have the wins to show for it, but we’ve played top-10 teams and we are getting better from it.”
“If you want to be in the situation those teams are and playing at as high of a level as they are, you have to see what they are doing,” Minnis added. “You have to play against the best to beat the best and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
Both Minnis and junior co-captain Will Roller agreed that the Crimson’s main focus all year has been the Northern Championships at Brown held Nov. 3-4. If Harvard can win its first game at Northerns, it will advance to the CWPA Eastern Championships at Princeton on Nov. 16-18.
Qualifying for the Eastern Championships tournament was one of the goals that the team set for itself at the beginning of the season.
“The Ivy League Championships is an important part of our season, but it definitely takes a backseat to Northerns because that’s where the true championship lies for our league,” Roller said. “With that in mind, Ivies is a chance to prepare for Northerns and in particular we are very eager for the opportunity to play Princeton and Brown again. We think that we can do a lot better than earlier in the season and we are looking for revenge.”
Roller said the recent slew of games against nationally ranked teams has helped show Harvard what it needs to work on in order to be at the level of the teams it is playing against.
“The difference between those teams [in the top 20] and the others are the level of intensity with how they approach the game,” Roller said. “The physicality is at another level and from the moment the whistle blows they are out there going full speed. That attitude and mental consistency is something that we need to be able to do to match these teams and ultimately beat them.”
The Crimson has received substantial contributions from underclassmen all season. The top three goal scorers on the team—Ben Zepfel, Noah Harrison, and Blake Lee—are all freshmen, and Lee and Harrison are in the top three on the team in assists as well.
Relying on young talent came with initial instability as the team learned to play more cohesively. But, according to Roller, the team has developed chemistry as it became more accustomed to playing with each other over the course of the season.
“We are a young team and we haven’t had a lot of time to play together yet,” Roller said. “However, we are already seeing this mental toughness come together in some respects even if its not reflected in our win-loss record over the past stretch. Having that mental fortitude to go from being a moderate team to being a championship team is something that everyone on the team has their eye on.”
The team will begin play on Saturday and play through the weekend depending on how many games it wins. Minnis said that in order to achieve its goals, Harvard must mimic those tendencies of the elite teams it has played the last couple of weeks.
“I think that we have had some times that we haven’t played consistent for four quarters this year,” Minnis said. “We turn the ball over a lot and there’s a lot we need to learn from in the last couple of weeks. [We need to focus on] the little things [nationally ranked teams] do that make them so effective.”
Conscious of his team’s weaknesses, Minnis is optimistic moving forward.
“We are hoping to keep playing consistent water polo and keep working hard so that we play our best water polo in two weeks.”