Day in and day out, the Princeton men’s water polo team (11–4 overall, 3–0 Northeast Water Polo Conference) continues to show why they are one of the best defensive teams in the country. On Sunday, Oct. 2, the Tigers came into a matchup with Harvard (7–4, 2–1 NWPC). The Crimson were ranked No. 11 in the latest poll, while the Tigers were ranked No. 15. However, that did not mean anything for the Tigers, who continued their NWPC dominance with a 9–6 hard-fought win.
The night before the game, head coach Dustin Litvak told The Daily Princetonian how the Tigers would find success the next day. He said, “We have to be smart, Harvard is a great team, we always have to be there to help one another and play well as a team.”
The game started when first-year utility Logan McCarroll drew a five-meter penalty, which Princeton failed to convert. The Tigers then went on to miss the following two penalties, giving them zero out of three five-meter penalty shots. With their five-meter shots being one of their biggest struggles as a team, Coach Litvak said, “It’s just confidence, when you come in to take the penalty shot, you must be confident … we have to find a way to build our confidence.” Litvak also praised Harvard goalie Noah Hodge, who made over 10 saves on the night.
After a slow start by both sides, the Crimson drew a five-meter penalty for themselves, and utility James Rozolis-Hill converted for Harvard. Princeton sophomore defender Vladan Mitrovic converted an outside shot in response. However, attacker Alex Tsotadze converted another penalty shot for the Crimson to give them a 2–1 lead.
After the goal from Harvard, both teams were in a defensive battle with no goals for the next eight minutes. First-year goalie West Temkin, a starter, went on to make nine key saves throughout the game.
When asked what it meant for him to start in the game, West told the ‘Prince,’ “Being able to play big games like this is huge … we’re putting a huge emphasis on defense … everyone is working really well together and the offense is coming naturally.”
Both teams missed key man-up situations and frustration was high before senior attacker and captain Keller Maloney capitalized on a 6–4 advantage to make the score 2–2 with 4:12 left in the second quarter.
Defense from the Tigers remained strong as sophomore attacker Roko Pozaric converted on another man-up situation to give the Tigers their first lead of the game. Senior utility Ryan Neapole scored on a counterattack to give Princeton a two-goal cushion at the break.
When Harvard sensation and consensus No. 1 Class of 2026 recruit Rozolis-Hill was asked about his team’s performance, he told the ‘Prince,’ “[it’s] all credit to Dusty [Litvak]. It’s a well-coached team and well-oiled machine, and they outplayed us today.” He also emphasized that he is excited to play Princeton again at Harvard.
The second half started with an offensive showdown between the two top schools in the NWPC conference. After a few missed opportunities from both ends, senior utility Joan Coloma made a goal to put the score at 5–2. Both teams exchanged goals, with Mitrovic and Maloney getting their respective second goals, which kept the Princeton two-point advantage at the end of the third period.
The fourth period was more of the same for Princeton: defensive dominance. The strong defense facilitated the offense, and a key man-up situation allowed Pozaric to get his second goal of the game before Mitrovic topped off a 9–6 win for Princeton.
Pozaric added, “I think the most important part is the defensive end … letting in six goals was an amazing accomplishment for us.”
This was the fewest goals scored in a game by Harvard all season. Previously, their low was nine goals against No. 1 Stanford, and they had also scored 15 goals on No. 2 UCLA.
When Harvard head coach Ted Minnis was asked about their performance, he praised Coach Litvak saying, “Dusty schemes very well, he’s one of the best coaches in the country, he makes me better everyday, we’ll go back and watch the film and improve and hopefully play this team two more times.”
After the big win, Coach Litvak told the ‘Prince,’ “We put so much effort into our defense and I’m glad it paid off against one of the most offensively productive teams in the country.” He called the game the “best defensive effort since the UCLA game,“ and he praised the team’s winning trend.
This is only the beginning of what’s to come for the rest of the team’s season. When asked if the sky’s the limit for the Tigers this season, Temkin answered, “How can the sky be the limit when a man already put his feet on the moon?”
The Tigers return to action next weekend with two away conference games on Saturday, Oct 8. They will play Iona (7–10, 1–2 NWPC) at 10 a.m. before they travel to Brooklyn to play St. Francis-Brooklyn (12–5, 2–1) in another conference game at 4 p.m.
Hayk Yengibaryan is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Instagram @hayk_10_11.