No. 12 Princeton men’s water polo (14–4, 5–0 Northeast Water Polo) extended their winning streak to six games on Sunday afternoon with an 11–9 win at No. 8 California-Santa Barbara (10–10, 0–1 Golden Coast).
This marked the team’s first win of the season against a top-10 team. It was also the first time since 2005 that the Gauchos lost to a team from the east coast. Sophomore utility Roko Pozaric and senior attacker Keller Maloney combined for seven of the Tigers’ 11 goals to lead the way.
After a couple of offensive possessions with no score, first-year utility Luke Johnston gave the Tigers a 1–0 lead off of an assist from senior attacker Yurian Quinones with 5:24 remaining in the first quarter. After a quick response from the Gauchos, junior utility Matej Sekulic scored to give the Tigers the one-goal advantage once more. With 10 seconds remaining in the quarter, Maloney scored to bolster the Tigers’ lead.
The second quarter was an offensive showdown, with Princeton outscoring Santa Barbara 4–3 in the frame. Pozaric scored his first goal of the game early in the second quarter before Maloney buried two home for the Tigers to make the score 6–4.
First-year goalie West Temkin made a crucial five meter penalty save in the second quarter to keep the momentum with the Tigers. After a turnover by the Gauchos, sophomore utility Isaac Rotenberg scored to expand the Tigers’ lead and give them a 7–4 lead at the break.
“The game was amazing, we came out with extreme energy,” Temkin told The Daily Princetonian. “We stayed calm and played as a team.”
After the halftime talk, the Gauchos immediately responded in front of their home fans with a 4–1 run. Princeton’s lone goal during this run came once again from Pozaric. Once again, Princeton found a goal at the end of the quarter as Roko made it a hat trick on the day. Princeton held a slight 9–8 advantage at the end of the third period.
“I thought we hit some very timely shots when we needed them,” head coach Dustin Litvak told the ‘Prince.’ “We scored goals in the last 10 seconds of each of the first three quarters, which provided good energy and momentum for us heading into the following quarters.”
The Tigers once again picked up right where they left off to start the fourth quarter. After multiple defensive stops, Quinones and Pozaric scored two quick goals to put the game out of reach for the Gauchos. The Gauchos would go on to score one goal, but Princeton held on for an 11–9 victory after a crucial block from Temkin on the counter attack for Santa Barbara.
When asked about the great game by his first-year goalie, Litvak said, “both West and [senior goalie] Tony [Knez] have been doing a great job all year. They push each other everyday and make each other better. It was West’s turn to step up today and he did.”
Temkin made seven crucial saves for the Tigers and the team’s defensive dominance continued under Coach Litvak. Princeton has held its opponents to single digits in its last nine games, playing seven ranked teams in that span. It is now widely expected that Princeton will move into the top-nine in the next weekly poll.
“The most important thing is that we are improving constantly as a team and preparing for the upcoming games,” Pozaric said.
The next game for the Tigers comes Tuesday, Oct. 18 against No.10 Pepperdine (11–10, 1–1 Golden Coast). The game will be another chance for Princeton to show the west coast its potential for this year.
“We will take it step by step, game by game, play by play,” Temkin said. “We are building a fire, everyday we train and add its fuel, and at the right moment, we will light the match.”
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.