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Men’s Water Polo Commences NWPC Campaign With Two Victories and a Loss

Sophomore Alexandru Bucur winds up against Wagner, a team Harvard has defeated twice thus far and will face again on Oct. 16.
Sophomore Alexandru Bucur winds up against Wagner, a team Harvard has defeated twice thus far and will face again on Oct. 16. By Josie W. Chen

With the score deadlocked at 7-7 in the final quarter of No. 15 Harvard men’s water polo’s battle against No. 9 Princeton, first-year Andrej Basica found the back of the net to help Harvard secure the lead, which it did not give up again. Ahead 8-7, the Crimson never looked back, scoring twice more to help it secure the first win of its 2021-22 Northeast Water Polo Conference (NWPC) campaign.

“The feeling was amazing to help my team win the game, but it’s just part of the job, you know,” Basica said. “My teammates are just great. All the goals I scored are because of them, they made some great passes and throws. We all worked together for it, and achieved it as a team.”

Harvard was busy on the road this weekend, with a trio of games against Princeton, St. Francis College Brooklyn, and Iona College. The Crimson brought back two wins, over the Tigers and Gaels of Iona to start the conference season with a 2-1 league record.

Harvard’s fourth consecutive triumph against Princeton, ranked No. 9 in the nation, marked its second victory against a ranked opponent this season, and its first of the NWPC campaign.

Despite initially trailing, sophomore Owen Hale netted three goals and, with additions from his teammates, closed the deficit to give Harvard the lead after the first two quarters. Basica, who had a strong debut for his squad, thwarted Princeton’s efforts to bring the score back to a tie at 7-7.

The Crimson offense was backed up masterfully by junior goalie Noah Hodge, who racked up 14 saves over the course of the match, complementing the team’s consistent goal-scoring and ensuring Harvard maintained a lead.

“I felt really good about my NWPC debut,” Basica said. “Scoring goals felt great, but individual goals don’t matter. We’re fighting for the national title, and that’s what our focus is right now. That’s what we’re working for.”

Basica’s strong debut continued with a hat-trick in the second contest against the St. Francis College Brooklyn Terriers. But it was not enough to get the Crimson across the finish line, as the squad fell two goals short in the 12-10 loss. This marked Harvard’s first regular-season NWPC loss since Oct. 6, 2018 — and its first loss against St. Francis since 2017.

Harvard coach Ted Minnis, though, said he felt confident about the team’s weekend performance.

“Obviously I would've liked to come out 3-0 and not 2-1, but I’m very happy with the progress we have been able to make, how we’ve stacked practice upon practice and get some games in there, and I think we’re finally seeing some great strides from these young men,” Minnis said.

The matchup with the Terriers was not the end of the Crimson’s weekend, however, as the squad had to regroup to face Iona College the next morning. Not letting the defeat faze it, Harvard beat the Gaels handily, 18-14. The Crimson, which did not trail at any point in the game, brought its all-time head-to-head record against Iona to 26-11. Junior Alex Tsotadze led the team with six goals and two assists, with sophomore Alexandru Bucur contributing a season-high four goals as well.

“Our goal this year is, well, we obviously want to win the NWPC, that’s the big goal. [The] smaller goal is just to keep getting better every day, growing as a team, and growing individually. I think those are the strides we need to make to achieve our bigger goal,” Minnis said.

The Crimson will host a pair of NWCP games at Blodgett Pool this weekend, against Brown on Saturday and MIT on Sunday.

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