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Men’s water polo secures two important wins over Iona and St. Francis Brooklyn

<h5>The Tigers will play seven games in California a week from now.</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of Nicole Maloney/<a href="https://goprincetontigers.com/news/2022/10/8/no-11-mens-water-polo-continues-hot-streak-win-streak-up-to-five.aspx" target="_self">GoPrincetonTigers</a>.</h6>
The Tigers will play seven games in California a week from now.
Courtesy of Nicole Maloney/GoPrincetonTigers.

The No. 11 ranked Princeton men’s water polo team (13–4, 5–0 NWPC) continued their successful season on Saturday with two road wins against Iona (7–11, 1–3 NWPC) and No. 20 ranked St. Francis Brooklyn (12–6, 2–2 NWPC). Once again, the Tigers held both teams to single digits and continued their defensive dominance under Coach Dustin Litvak.

The game against Iona was a slow start for the Tigers, who scored their singular goal of the quarter through first-year utility Luke Johnston before the Gaels answered back to end the first quarter. The beginning of the second quarter was a defensive battle with no goals in the first three minutes before senior attacker Yurian Quinones scored off a pass from senior attacker Keller Maloney to give the Tigers a 2–1 advantage. Sophomore center George Caras got the Tigers to three and gave the Tigers a one-goal advantage at the break.

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One of the main struggles for the Tigers was their man-up conversions, as they converted only one out of their 12 man-up plays.

“The main reason we struggled to convert our man-ups today was just playing in unusual pools,” head coach Dustin Litvak told The Daily Princetonian. “Iona is a six-lane pool where one end is only 3.5 feet deep. This means there is much less space to attack, the defense has less ground to cover, and the goalie is standing on the bottom half of the game.”

After a few back-and-forth exchanges by both teams, sophomore attacker Gavin Molloy found the back of the cage, tying the score at 4–4. This was the wake-up call that the Tigers needed, as they went on to score three unanswered goals with Maloney getting on the scoresheet and Caras and Quinones adding to their tally.

The fourth quarter was much of the same for Princeton, as Johnston got his second of the game and Quinones made it a hat-trick before first-year utility JP Ohl found the back of the net to get the Tigers to double digits, securing a 10–7 win. First-year goalie West Temkin had six key saves against the Gaels. When asked about his great offensive performance, Quinones turned the attention back to defense, telling the ‘Prince’ that “overall our game plan is always the same: lock it down on the defensive end and our goals will come naturally from our offense.”

Princeton emerged victorious despite missing two key pieces on Saturday, with leading goalscorer sophomore utility Roko Pozaric out due to a back injury and first-year utility Logan McCarrol missing the game due to a thumb injury.

Litvak commented on not being able to use his key pieces, stating that the team has been plagued with injuries and illnesses all year long. 

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“While everyone has different talents offensively, we know if we commit to playing defense the right way as a team, we will always have a shot to win, even when guys are out,” he told the ‘Prince.’ 

The same evening, Litvak’s men returned to action in another unusual environment against St. Francis Brooklyn, ranked No. 20 in the latest poll. Surprisingly, the Tigers trailed most of the game, the first time this season they mostly played from behind in a conference game.

Senior goalie Antonio Knez got the starting spot over Temkin for the second game. When asked about the competition for the goalie position, Knez had nothing but praise for the first-year standout goalie. 

“West is a great kid and a great goalie, and I love playing with him. Him playing well makes me better because it pressures me into stepping up my game and vice versa. We learn a lot from one another,” Knez said. 

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The first quarter was a high-scoring affair between the two ranked teams. Goals from Ohl and Quinones helped the Tigers get on the scoresheet, but they found themselves trailing 3–2 at the end of the first. The second period was much of the same, with the teams exchanging goals back and forth. Senior utility Ryan Neapole got on the scoresheet, and two first-years also scored to keep the Tigers within striking distance of the Terriers.

The Tigers had hoped to have a strong third quarter and take a commanding lead like they had previously done in earlier conference games this season. However, this time around, St. Francis held on to their one goal advantage and kept that advantage throughout the quarter. Junior attacker Pierce Maloney got his first goal of the night before Quinones got his fifth of the day, but the Tigers still trailed 8–7 heading into the final frame.

“Playing St. Francis at their pool is always chaotic. It's a smaller pool and their crowd is usually really loud. Games always get physical, especially towards the end,” Knez said. 

Knez was not wrong, as the game did get very physical in the final frame. However, the fourth quarter saw Neapole help his team take the lead with an assist to Caras to tie the game up and a big shot with four minutes left to give the Tigers a 9–8 lead. The Terriers tied it up, but Caras drew a penalty for the team that captain Keller Maloney buried past the goalie to maintain the one goal lead for Princeton.

A few crucial saves from Knez and a last-second goal from sophomore defender Vladan Mitrovic secured a win for the Tigers. Knez was the game’s standout player with 19 crucial saves for the Tigers, including a penalty shot. “We were able to maintain our composure and rally in the last quarter for a win. As a collective we work much better, which made all the difference in the end,” he said.

The Tigers’ next contest will take place over 2,800 miles away when they travel to Southern California to face California–Santa Barbara Sunday at 3 pm EST. The team will be in the state for nine days, playing seven games in that span, finishing off the trip with a showdown against No.1 Stanford on Oct. 23.

“This is a challenging week for the guys as midterms bring a lot of stress,” Litvak said. “We try to give them a little more rest this week so they can be ready for their exams, but we also know we have a big week ahead of us and we need to be ready to go.”

The trip to California will test this Tigers team and ultimately show the nation what they are capable of this year. 

Knez put it best, saying, “We have so many players that can show up and step up when it matters. This game, it was me, and the next one, it’s gonna be someone else.”

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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