BOSTON--After resounding defeats to some of the nation's elite water polo teams in last weekend's Air Force Academy Invitational in Colorado, you can bet the Harvard men's water polo team was looking forward to playing MIT--a school that might come close to Harvard academically but lags well behind the more muscular Crimson in the world of sports.
However, despite the Engineers less-than-distinguished athletic reputation, the Crimson (4-5) was forced to struggle in last night's contest before riding a late surge to a 14-12 triumph at Alumni Pool in Boston.
The game was flawed from the start due to the unexplained absence of the scheduled referee.
Consequently, an MIT assistant coach and alumni player were used as officials, with predictable results. Members of both teams were vocal in their complaints throughout the match.
"This was the most unbelievable game of water polo I've ever played in," sophomore Andy Davis said. "It was so poorly [officiated], the reduction in the level of play from the west coast was incredible. They let bad water polo go on."
Despite the poor officiating, the Crimson jumped out to a quick start, as senior Alex Kim and freshman standout Mike Zimmerman tallied goals in the first minute of play.
But after the Engineers countered with a pair of quick strikes, it took co-captain Julian Alexander's goal off a breakaway with just 19 seconds left to maintain the lead for Harvard.
Whenever it appeared that Harvard was assuming control of the contest, however, MIT would tighten things up again.
After Davis netted a pair of goals in the second period. Kim tallied his second of the game, giving the Crimson a 6-3 lead, and seemingly the momentum needed to put the game away was on Harvard's side.
But MIT kept the game close by outscoring Harvard 2-1 the rest of the half, and the teams reached halftime with the Crimson leading, 7-5.
The game tightened even more as the second half began, but then Harvard surged to take a 10-7 lead on the strength of a pair of goals by Kim and one by junior Dan Arbelaez. Yet to the dismay of the Crimson faithful, this seemingly insurmountable mid-third period three-goal Harvard advantage would not last long.
Bucking their school's athletic tradition, the Engineers did not die, netting three unanswered goals, including one on a penalty shot, to end the third period in a 10-10 deadlock that left the sparse crowd in a frenzy.
"The noise was demoralizing," sophomore goalie Ed Chen said of the boisterous crowd, which was primarily composed of fraternity brothers. "The crowd really gets on you. They're like a seventh player in the pool."
Apparently embarrassed by the possibility of a loss to MIT, Harvard came out firing in the final stanza.
Kim, Alexander and Davis answered the Engineers with a streak of their own, giving the Crimson a 13-10 lead with 4:55 remaining.
After MIT narrowed the deficit by a goal, Arbelaez struck with 1:51 remaining, giving Harvard a (really) insurmountable 14-11 advantage.
The triumvirate of Kim, Alexander and Davis represented the majority of Harvard's offense, as Kim finished with a team-high five goals, while Alexander and Davis netted three apiece.
Chen continued his strong play in net, going the distance for the Crimson and making several key saves with the game still on the line.