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Harvard Reaches First Final Four in Program History in OT Thriller

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For the second-straight game, the Crimson needed extra time to knock of its opponent in the NCAA Championship.

After two-straight years of all-California men’s water polo NCAA semifinals, the Northeast is crashing the party. And it’s doing so in style.

No. 9 Harvard men’s water polo (27-6) defeated No. 9 UC Davis (23-6) in the NCAA quarterfinals to clinch a spot in the NCAA Final Four for the first time in program history. Regulation was not enough to separate the two squads. After the fourth quarter buzzer sounded with the duo knotted at 14 points apiece, the Crimson needed overtime to beat out the Aggies, 16-15.

In the first three-minute period of OT, senior Viktor Wrobel scored early to give Harvard the 15-14 advantage. Wrobel’s goal was the only of the period as Harvard carried the lead into the last period of play.

Already up one, freshman Austin Sechrest scored what would end up being the game-winner in the second overtime period. A late goal by the Aggies would trim the deficit to one, but UC Davis was not able to find the equalizer before the final seconds ran off the clock.

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“We didn’t have the best game all around,” co-captain Harry Tafur said. “There were plenty of mistakes, but going into overtime… we knew we had the experience to get the job done and the confidence in our physical abilities and our conditioning to finish the game strong. That’s a testament to our coaches and training regimen that allows us to play at a high level for a whole game and an extra couple of periods.”

The Aggies got on the board first capitalizing on a Harvard penalty to go up 1-0 with 6:27 left in the first quarter. Harvard then erupted to score four consecutive goals to take an early 4-1 lead. Freshman Charlie Owens scored twice and seniors Joey Colton and Dan Stevens tallied one each. Late in the quarter, UC Davis scored twice to cut Harvard’s lead to one, but a shot from senior Noah Harrison brought the lead back up to two (5-3) before the end of the first frame.

UC Davis opened up the second quarter with a goal but Colton and Harrison responded fast with one apiece to extend the lead to 7-4. The Aggies followed up by going on a 4-1 run evening the score to 8-8 before entering the intermission.

The second half started with goals from junior Colin Chiapello and Sechrest started the second half to give Harvard the lead back. Then the Aggies notched two of their own to tie the game back up.

Colton completed a hat trick to momentarily pull the Crimson ahead, but two UC Davis goals gave the Aggies the lead for the first time in the game, ending the third quarter up 12-11.

“We played Davis twice before and one won and lost one so we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game,” Tafur said. “That being said we were confident in our chances and our system and that we would be successful.”

UC Davis’s lead didn’t last long as Chiapello beat the goalkeeper to record his second goal of the game and even the score 12-12. Harrison quickly followed with his third goal of the game to give Harvard the one goal advantage with a little over six minutes to play. The Crimson defense was able to keep the Aggies for almost three minutes, but a goal with 3:47 left tied up the game at 13. Harvard immediately answered back with a goal off a rebound by Owens. Two minutes later UC Davis fought back with a goal to tie up the game to stay alive. Timeouts on both sides were unable to produce a goal, setting the scene for the late-game dramatics.

“Rght now, everyone is just really absorbing the moment,” Tafur said. “[Reaching the] Final Four is not an accomplishment that many teams in any sport really gets to say. So the fact that all our hard work has paid off is definitely pleasing.”

Despite the game leaking into extra time, it was the shortest NCAA Championship game for the team thus far. Harvard traveled west after defeating Bucknell in the opening play-in game in sudden-death after two overtime periods failed to yield a winner.

“Each game since two weeks ago has been the biggest game our season, the biggest game of most of our careers so far,” sophomore Nathan Ondracek said. “We’re taking it one step at a time and just enjoying each win.”

Staff writer Ginny Miller can be reached at virginiamiller@college.harvard.edu.

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