Coming into the matchup against No. 9 Pepperdine University (12–10 overall, 1–1 GCC), the No. 9 Princeton Men’s Water Polo team (14–5, 5–0 NWPC) was on a six game winning streak, clicking on all cylinders.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, their winning streak came to an end on Tuesday afternoon in a 9–7 loss at Malibu. This is Princeton’s first loss since their matchup against UC Irvine in September.
There are a few certain things in life, and sophomore utility Roko Pozaric winning the opening sprint every quarter is one of them. In all four quarters, Pozaric won the sprint for the Tigers against Pepperdine.
After a penalty goal by the Pepperdine Waves, sophomore defender Vladan Mitrovic responded with a goal of his own off a man up advantage, assisted by first-year utility JP Ohl. After that goal, it was all Princeton for the next eight minutes.
With 2:53 left in the first quarter, senior attacker Keller Maloney scored a penalty shot to give the Tigers a 2–1 lead before Mitrovic scored his second goal of the game during the following possession to make it 3–1.
Maloney began the second quarter firing on all cylinders again, scoring on a man-up advantage goal. After a goal by the Waves, Maloney found his brother, junior attacker Pierce Maloney, to make it 5–2.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, they were not able to score for the rest of the quarter. The Waves stepped up their defense, and they managed to score three goals in that span, tying the game 5–5 at the half.
“Our energy wasn’t where it needed to be today,” Head Coach Dustin Litvak wrote to the Daily Princetonian.
“There were many possessions where we made slight mental errors or didn’t close out quick enough that led to goals allowed,” he added. “We need to clean that up moving forward.”
The third period was a defensive deadlock between both sides. Finally, with 13 seconds left in the quarter, senior utility Ryan Neapole scored to give the Tigers a 6–5 lead.
However, the momentum that the Tigers needed to maintain only lasted 11 seconds. Their offensive play came to an end when the Waves scored with two seconds remaining.
Princeton found their rhythm once again when they earned a much-needed goal at the beginning of the final quarter. Mitrovic scored for the Tigers with an impressive hat trick off a feed from Keller Maloney to help the Tigers take back the lead.
Unfortunately, Mitrovic’s goal would be the last for Princeton.
“We unexpectedly slowed down and looked incoherent in the second half of the game,” Mitrovic told the ‘Prince.’ “We managed to defeat ourselves and allow them to utilize their strategy.”
After many missed chances by the Tigers, Pepperdine would capitalize and go on to score three unanswered goals in the fourth period.
Pepperdine’s goalie Zach Cwiertnia had 13 saves for the Waves — his season high.
Sophomore star Pozaric did not score against the Waves this time around, only his second game of the season without a goal.
“Roko is a phenomenal talent who does much more than score goals for us,” Litvak told the ‘Prince.’ “If we are going to achieve our goals this year, we cannot be reliant on any one player carrying the load offensively.”
“Vlad[an] clearly stepped up today offensively, but we needed other guys to do the same,” Litvak added.
Despite the loss, Mitrovic maintains a positive mindset.
“I believe our team has shown that we have all the qualities and potential to upset absolutely any west coast team,” he said.
Echoing a similar sentiment, Coach Litvak put it best: “In years past, most of these west coast schools would not have prepared for a game vs Princeton … It is a testament to where our program and several other east coast teams have come that we are a legitimate concern and contender.”
The Tigers’ optimistic outlook served them well in their matchup against No. 12 Loyola Marymount on Thursday afternoon. With the 10 goals in the second half of the game to bring the final score to 12–9, Princeton demonstrated their resilience, once again, stepping up to the competition.
With this win, the Tigers are now tied for ninth in the nation with Pepperdine. Previously No. 11 Loyola has dropped to No. 12 in week seven rankings from the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA).
Princeton will take on No. 17 Santa Clara at the Santa Clara Invitational on Friday, Oct. 21 for their second matchup of the season. When the two met in early September, the Tigers won 9–8.
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.