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M. Water Polo Struggles Through Rollercoaster Year

By Jamal K. Greene, CRIMSON STAFF WRITER

Wait 'til next year.

Once again that bitter phrase will be the motto of the Harvard men's water polo team (12-19, 5-6 CWPA). After a frustrating, injury-plagued 1997 season, the Crimson entered the 1998 season expecting to make a splash during the regular season and at the East Coast Athletic Conference Tournament.

With a new coach and a fresh perspective in Jim Floerchinger, and the return of a healthy Mike Zimmerman at the two-meter spot, a return to the form that brought the team a 15-8 season and earned Zimmerman All-America honors in 1996 seemed within reach.

No one counted on a season-ending injury to freshman goalie Gresham Bayne before the opener, forcing sophomore driver Josh Bliesath into net. Although Bliesath improved dramatically as the season progressed, it took an entire year for Harvard to recover from its early-season woes.

The Crimson dropped six of its first seven contests and remained plagued by inconsistency for the entire regular season. Harvard managed to close the year on an up note, finishing fifth at the Northern Division Tournament despite being seeded eighth, but success for this team came too late and not often enough.

"It seemed as if we fielded two teams," Bliesath said. "When we came out ready to play, we won. At other times, it was as if we didn't even show up."

To the Crimson's credit, the "ready to play" team emerged more and more as the season advanced. After winning just one of its first seven games to start the season, the team went on to win three of its next four.

"We played really well [at Fordham]," said Zimmerman, the team's captain. "It was like a completely different team."

However, the team that sometimes "didn't show up," failed to show up several more times. The Crimson's one loss during its winning stretch was a 10-9 setback to lowly MIT, a sign of the dismal week to come.

Harvard lost five straight matches from Sept. 27 to Oct. 4, including all four of its contests at the North/South Invitational at Princeton. The Crimson, however, recovered from its New Jersey drive by closing the season a respectable 8-8.

Harvard followed its competitive play in California, trading wins and losses yet gaining confidence, through the season's end.

The team's final regular-season match, a 10-6 win over B.C., avenged a 13-7 season-opening loss, and represented the Crimson's best effort of the regular season.

"The team really was there in a way I haven't seen it before--mentally, physically, everything," said Bliesath after the win. "It was really a beautiful game."

The Crimson carried the momentum from the B.C. win into Northerns. The score of its 13-4 opening-round loss to top-seeded Queens belies the competitiveness of the match, which was at 5-3 at halftime.

Losing to the Royals eliminated the Crimson for contention for one of the top four spots at the tournament, which carry automatic bids into ECACs. Harvard made the most of the rest of the tournament, posting wins over B.C. and Iona to end the year.

Despite its record, Harvard proved itself capable of brilliance.

"This was the most mature team I've seen in two years, and we were able to put it together for the final two games," said senior driver Chris Tilghman.

Although the Crimson can boast more depth than in previous years, replacing this senior class--Zimmerman, Tilghman, two-meter and defensive whiz Tom Chalberg and driver Sid Burke--will be a challenge, to say the least.

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