Harvard men's water polo closed out its season with a sixth place finish in this weekend's Eastern championships in Providence, R.I.
After falling to Bucknell, the squad came back with a win over Slippery Rock, but then lost to Richmond in its final game.
Playing with a driving offense and a pressing man-to-man defense, the seventh-seeded Crimson climbed one spot by sinking Slippery Rock (ranked 20th in the nation).
"No one expected us to beat the Rock," Coach Chris Hafferty said. "Our goal was to beat a nationally ranked team."
Harvard rallied back after falling behind, 4-1, in the first quarter, and fought off a desperation drive in the final minutes to eke out a 10-9 victory. "We played a little sloppy at first," Hafferty said, "but as soon as we got the jitters out of our system, we shut down their offense."
Senior goalie Rod Phares played the entire game against the Rock and proved he was capable of keeping the ball out of the net when the pressure was on. Although Slippery Rock was down three goals in the last quarter, it drew to within one with 1:40 left in the game--but couldn't score the tying goal.
"Phares played out of his mind," Tri-Captain Rob Strauss said.
As usual, the team's high scorer Strauss led the offense, firing in three goals against both Slippery Rock and Richmond and two against Bucknell. Senior hole center Brian Johnston was a formidable offensive force as well, tallying six times in the tournament.
Rocky starts against both Bucknell and Richmond plagued the Crimson. Both opponents struck early, forcing Harvard to scramble back against what proved to be insurmountable odds.
"We played into their hands," Hafferty said.
Because of numerous penalties against the Crimson, Bucknell was able to capitalize on eight of 12 power plays on the way to a 13-5 victory.
Bucknell went on to place second in the tournament behind Brown. Both teams will advance to the NCAA nationals in Long Beach, California.
Against Richmond, Harvard trailed, 7-1, in the first half. Although the Crimson outscored its opponent in the remaining two quarters, the game ended with Richmond on top, 12-7.
Despite the pair of weekend losses, however, Harvard has nothing to be ashamed of in its overall performance this season. Adjusting well to adversity--there have been three coaches in the last three years--the team finished with a solid 17-8 record, a marked improvement over last year's 14-11 finish.
Rookie coach Hafferty said that though he was apprehensive of resentment from the upperclassmen, he discovered a real family spirit among the team members.