Coming off a string of three losses at last weekend’s Princeton Invitational, the Harvard men’s water polo team rebounded in its return to Cambridge and home-pool play, recording two wins and one loss at the North-South Challenge.
The Crimson split its matchups on Saturday, falling to Bucknell, 11-3, before taking down Mercyhurst, 16-9, later that afternoon. Harvard then closed the weekend at Blodgett Pool with a 15-13 victory over George Washington on Sunday.
The Crimson (5-5), whose roster includes only five upperclassmen, saw major contributions from rookies including Ben Zepfel and Blake Lee, who notched four goals apiece on Sunday.
“We played some of our better water polo of the year this weekend,” Harvard coach Ted Minnis said. “We’ve definitely been getting consistently better every week.”
But with such a young roster, the coach gives credit to the team’s returners for bringing the squad together to get the weekend’s two wins.
“The great thing about the juniors and seniors is that they’re all leaders,” Minnis said. “They all lead in their own way. It starts at the top with our senior captain Max Eliot and our junior captain Will Roller. They do a great job of being vocal leaders and really leading by example.... I think that’s huge, and what they do can’t be underestimated.”
HARVARD 15, GEORGE WASHINGTON 13
With Lee and Zepfel leading the way on offense on Sunday, the Crimson closed out the last game of the weekend with a win after being tied with the Colonials (5-6) at six at the half and then again at 10 going into the final frame.
The teams traded goals in the first few minutes of the fourth period, but a pair of back-to-back ejections resulted in scores from Roller and freshman Noah Harrison to pull ahead. A final goal from yet another rookie, Robbie Fluegge, increased the margin, allowing Harvard to take the game, 15-13.
“[The freshmen] showed that they’re a very talented group,” Minnis said. “All the hard work that [we’ve] put in on recruiting has paid off…. Everyone’s starting to get to know each other better, and it’s showing up in the pool.”
HARVARD 16, MERCYHURST 9
The Crimson’s offense was equally proficient in Saturday’s matchup against the Lakers, jumping to a 5-1 lead in the game’s opening frame. But Harvard’s goal-scoring success was anchored in strong play at the opposite end of the pool.
“We played really well on the defensive end against Mercyhurst, and that got our counterattack going,” Minnis said. “That led to a couple of easy goals and really got our confidence going.”
Harrison, who was named the CWPA Northern Division Rookie of the Week earlier this month, tallied five of the Crimson’s 14 total steals against the Lakers (6-2, 4-0 CWPA), and junior goalie Jimmy Field contributed 18 saves, giving him a season total of 56.
With its defense shutting down Mercyhurst’s attacks, the Harvard offense went to work, and seven different Crimson players recorded goals before the final whistle.