It was 314 days since the Princeton men’s water polo team (11–4, 3–0 NWPC) last played a Northeast Water Polo Conference (NWPC) game, when they beat St. Francis-Brooklyn at home to win the 2021 NWPC championship. On Saturday, the Tigers started conference play right where they left off. The Tigers first defeated MIT (2–8, 0–3 NWPC) 18–9 in Denunzio Pool. Then, they beat No. 19 Brown (8–6, 1–2) 14–8 later that day to improve to a 10–4 overall record.
In the morning game against the MIT Engineers, it took some time for Princeton to get going. MIT started the scoring with junior utility Evan Kowal. After a quick man-up situation for the Tigers, first-year utility Luke Johnston immediately responded. Once MIT went up 2–1, it was all about senior attacker Keller Maloney for Princeton. Maloney scored a first-quarter hat trick, which was followed by a goal from junior center George Caras to give the Tigers a 5–2 lead heading into the second period.
The Engineers put up a tough fight in the second period, going back and forth with the Tigers. Goals from senior utility Joan Coloma and first-year utility JP Ohl made it 7–4 Princeton halfway through the second. Every time Princeton looked like they were going to pull away, MIT had an answer. Caras scored his second goal of the game and senior attacker Yurian Quinones got on the scoresheet to make it 9–5 Tigers, before a goal from Engineer senior attacker Miller Geschke made it 9–6 at the break. Geschke led MIT with three goals during the game.
But the second half was a completely different story. Princeton established dominance through its defense, holding MIT scoreless for most of the third period. The offense took advantage, scoring six unanswered goals. By the end of the third period, the lead was stretched to 16–7, Princeton. Ohl, junior attacker Pierce Maloney, sophomore attacker Gavin Molloy, and senior captains Quinones, Keller Maloney, and Ryan Neapole all had their shots end up in the back of the net.
“We had to limit the turnovers,” head coach Dustin Litvak told The Daily Princetonian. “When you’re turning the ball over, it’s really hard to get your defense set.”
“The tempo comes on the defensive end,” Keller Maloney, who led the team with four goals, told the ‘Prince’. “We have the mentality of, ‘It’s our turn. We score, we take the ball back and they don’t get a turn, and we score again.’”
The last period of the game saw Ohl attain his first career hat-trick for the Tigers. Sophomore attacker Will Garlinghouse also got on the scoresheet as Princeton cruised to a 19–8 victory at home. First-year West Temkin started in goal for the Tigers and made seven saves.
When Litvak was asked about the first-years on the team, he spoke highly of the four new recruits: Ohl, Temkin, and utilities Luke Johnston, and Logan McCarroll.
“They’re a huge part of our team,” he told the ‘Prince.’ “We expect them to contribute immediately and they’ve done a great job all year. They’re constantly learning and improving all year.”
Just a few hours later, the team returned to Denunzio to play Brown. “Brown has a really talented freshman center, and they’ve returned key pieces,” Coach Litvak emphasized before the game.
Princeton erupted with an early 5–2 lead against the Bears. While Brown did score the first goal of the game, Coloma immediately responded the following possession with a shot from the center of the cage. After a few exclusions and a defensive battle, Coloma scored again to break the deadlock to give the Tigers a 2–1 lead heading into the second.
The second quarter was all Tigers as their leading goalscorer, sophomore utility Roko Pozaric, scored two goals early in the quarter before captain Keller Maloney scored to put Princeton up 5–2. The teams traded goals with sophomore utility Isaac Rotenberg getting on the scoresheet before two goals from Pierce Maloney gave the Tigers an 8–3 lead at halftime.
“Our biggest goal was to keep Brown to as few goals as possible,“ sophomore defender Vladan Mitrovic told the ‘Prince.’ “We are trying to focus on our defense, and progress from there to offense.”
To start the second half, Keller Maloney and Pozaric continued their scoring for the Tigers, with Pozaric tallying a hat trick. After Quinones scored, Pozaric scored his fourth of the game to make it 12–4 at the end of the third.
The fourth quarter had Brown get a few consolation goals, but a second goal from Rotenberg and a first of the game for Pierce Maloney sealed a 14–8 win for the Tigers. Senior goalie Antonio Knez started and had seven saves to lead the defensive effort from the cage.
While there were many positives in the game, the team did have 11 ejections, which was one too many for Litvak. “This has been something we have been trying to clean up for a couple weeks,” he said. “We always have to be there to help each other. We have to learn how to stay calm in those environments. If we have good ball pressure, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
“We are improving everyday. We have yet to reach our peak and we are only getting better and better,” Mitrovich said.
Hayk Yengibaryan is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at email@example.com or on Instagram @hayk_10_11.