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Princeton men’s water polo makes program history with thriller win over No. 3 Stanford

<p>Roko Pozaric scores the game-winning goal with 13 seconds on the buzzer.</p>
<p>Courtesy of <a href="https://goprincetontigers.com/news/2022/10/23/no-9-mens-water-polo-takes-down-no-3-stanford-for-first-time-in-program-history-11-10.aspx" target="_self">goprincetontigers.com</a>.</p>

Roko Pozaric scores the game-winning goal with 13 seconds on the buzzer.

Courtesy of goprincetontigers.com.

When the buzzer sounded at the end of Sunday morning’s match, the No. 9 Princeton men’s water polo team (19–5 overall, 5–0 Northeast Water Polo) beat the No. 3 Stanford Cardinals (19–2 overall, 0–1 MPSF) for the first time in program history. 

This was the first time Stanford had lost to a team from the east coast, and it also marked the first time Princeton has beaten a top-four school in its history. Perhaps the most impressive part of this victory was that the Cardinals never held a lead against the Tigers. 

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After sophomore utility Roko Pozaric won the opening sprint, first-year utility Luke Johnston got the scoring started for the Tigers. After a few missed opportunities by both sides, senior attacker Yurian Quinones scored on a man-up advantage for the Tigers off an assist from senior utility Ryan Neapole to make the score 2–0. 

Head Coach Dustin Litvak commented on the strong start by his side, telling The Daily Princetonian, “getting off to a fast start up 2–0 and never trailing was very important. It is easy to have energy when you are winning, but just as easy to lose hope when you make mistakes or lose the lead. Our guys never lost hope. The energy in the water and on the bench was just incredible.”

After Stanford responded with a goal, Neapole found sophomore defender Vladan Mitrovic whose goal kept the advantage at two for the Tigers. Stanford, the former No. 1 team in the nation, responded at the end of the quarter with a five-meter penalty goal from junior driver Soren Jensen. 

In the second period, Quinones assisted Mitrovic to make it 4–2 Princeton. After Stanford responded, senior attacker and captain Keller Maloney scored to put the lead back at two on a man-up advantage for Princeton. 

After back-to-back goals by the Cardinals from Speedy Laster and Jack Martin, it was tied 5–5. Pozaric scored his first goal of the game off an assist from senior utility Joan Coloma to make it 6–5 Princeton at the break. 

The third period started exactly how the second did: Quinones to Mitrovic to make it a hat trick for Vladan, and it was back to a two-goal lead for the Tigers. After Stanford responded, Pozaric scored his second goal of the game making it 8–6 for Princeton.

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Two quick goals from driver Jackson Painter tied the game, but Mitrovic continued his dominant game with his fourth goal of the game to make it 9–8 Tigers.

“Four goals were the product of the team,“ Mitrovic told the ‘Prince.’ “The element I loved most about the game was the energy and belief from our team that led us to dictate the tempo of the game.” 

“This is just a small step to the team's ultimate goal,” Mitrovic continued, referencing their ultimate goal being to win the national championship.

After Quinones opened the scoring for the Tigers in the fourth period, Stanford’s Grant Watson assisted and scored to tie the game at 10 with five minutes remaining. 

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After multiple defensive stops and missed shots by both sides, it was still 10–10 with one minute remaining. After a timeout, Pozaric drew an exclusion for the Tigers with just over 30 seconds remaining. 

With 13 seconds left in the game, Pozaric got the ball, threw a few fakes, and drilled the ball in the top left corner of the net.

When asked about what was going through his head during the shot, Pozaric told the ‘Prince,’ “I felt confident I could go around the block and score on the near side of the goal.” 

He added that getting the win against one of the best teams in the country felt amazing, and that “all of us are very happy and excited for the rest of the season.”

After a missed shot by Stanford, Princeton secured the 11–10 victory to end the Santa Clara Invitational for the Tigers, making history in the process. 

“As the game ended, I looked around at ecstatic parents and fans who were in shock at the result,” Maloney told the ‘Prince.’ “When I looked at our team, nobody was surprised. Every single guy on our team knew that we earned our spot with the best teams, proving we can compete with any team in the country.”

Senior goalie Antonio Knez made 10 crucial saves for the Tigers. The Cardinals never led throughout the game and could not stop the Princeton power play, which went 6–11 on the day. 

“Beating such a storied program like Stanford feels amazing,” Litvak said. “I felt really good about the game going into it. We have been playing pretty well lately, and the guys are extremely bought in.”

After this win, Princeton is expected to move into the top seven of the next rankings. The Cardinals have beaten No. 1 UCLA, No. 2 Cal, and No. 4 Pacific this season. This win by the Tigers sent a clear message to the top five: Princeton can — and will — compete for a national championship this season. 

The Tigers return to action this Saturday at DeNunzio Pool, hosting St. Francis Brooklyn and Iona University in hopes of continuing their perfect conference season thus far. 

Litvak remarked, “we will enjoy this today and then quickly move on. We do not want this to be the peak of our season. We can only get better. This is a very special group. I enjoy coaching them and I’m excited to see what we can do from here.”

Senior attacker and captain Keller Maloney put it best, saying, “We’ve done things the right way all year, and we’re more excited than ever to keep climbing. If we keep doing what’s made us successful so far, we can make history.”

Hayk Yengibaryan is a contributor to the sports section at the ‘Prince.’ He can be reached at hy5161@princeton.edu or on Instagram @hayk_10_11.

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