The No. 17 Harvard men’s water polo team (17-12, 11-1 ECAC) went into this weekend’s CWPA Northern Division Championships with a 6-game win streak extending back to Oct. 26. Momentum from the prior victories helped the Crimson prevail over MIT on Saturday, but was not enough as No. 18 St. Francis took the championship title on Sunday afternoon.
St. Francis 12, Harvard 4.
From the beginning, the championship game was tense.
Solid defensive play from both sides of the pool kept goals in the first half to a minimum. The first six shots from the opening minutes were all blocked by goalies, and for a majority of the first quarter, the score was even at 0-0. Just shy of a minute left, however, freshman Dan Stevens managed to find an opening and the Crimson went up 1-0.
The second quarter, a repeat of the first, saw only one successful goal throughout the entire frame, this time from Andras Kovacs of St. Francis. A short scramble for the ball near the Harvard goalpost two minutes into the frame produced cheers from the crowd, but did not produce any decisive shots as the Crimson eventually regained possession. It wasn’t until nearly halfway through that Kovacs launched the single goal from five meters; for the rest of that quarter, defensive play from both ends kept the score tied at 1-1.
“I thought we played a great first half, and…their goalie is very good, probably one of the best goalies in the country,” Harvard coach Ted Minnis said. “He does a very good job in there, and it allows them to do some [more] things defensively.”
The second half of the game, however, resembled nothing of the first as St. Francis scored two goals within the opening minute. Sophomore Ben Zepfel of the Crimson responded with a goal of his own merely 15 seconds later, but Bosko Stankovic of St. Francis made a goal yet again at 6:28, his second on the night. In less than two minutes, the cumulative score tripled from what it was before halftime. By the end of the third frame, the board would stand at 7-3.
Aggressive gameplay from St. Francis for the rest of the game led the Terriers through to the championship. Besides a goal early in the fourth quarter by sophomore Noah Harrison, the Crimson could not capitalize on any of its offensive runs. The five shots made by St. Francis that ended inside the Crimson goalpost were not met with an equivalent response. Final score: St. Francis, 12-4.
“We got stops the first half, but we didn’t get stops the second half; it’s just as simple as that, I think,” Minnis said. “There’s just luck involved in everything, and I think they got a couple of balls that got over us when we were in pretty good defensive position…that was the difference. Then we’re playing catch up and doing different things defensively, and it kind of stalled out on offense a little.”
Harvard 9, MIT 6
The semi-final game against MIT largely resembled the championship match against St. Francis as the first half featured solid defensive play. It was the Crimson, however, that would run with the 3-2 halftime lead as soon as the second half began.
Coming off of a second quarter that only had one successful goal combined, the Crimson came out firing. Two shots from MIT that made it into Harvard goalpost provoked responses from Stevens and freshman Joey Colton, who both pushed the Crimson back to a 5-4 lead. For the remainder of the third and about halfway through the fourth, four goals by Stevens, Colton, and Harrison went unanswered. Only two shots slipped through the Harvard defense, and the substantial lead halfway through the fourth was enough to give Harvard a place in the finals.
“It started on the defensive end,” Minnis said. “That was something we talked about at halftime. We just got to get stops and everything else is going to happen. This was their second game of the day, we knew they were going to be tired, we wanted to get a stop and just motor down the pool and that’s what we did.”
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