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No. 9 men’s water polo returns to winning ways with four victories in three days

<h5>Senior Keller Maloney at the Santa Clara Invitational.</h5>
<h6>Courtesy of <a href="https://goprincetontigers.com/news/2022/10/22/no-9-mens-water-polo-takes-care-of-fresno-pacific-19-10-no-16-cal-baptist-up-later.aspx" target="_self">goprincetontigers.com</a>.</h6>
Senior Keller Maloney at the Santa Clara Invitational.
Courtesy of goprincetontigers.com.

After dropping a game against No. 10 Pepperdine (12–11 overall, 1–1 Golden Coast), No. 12 Princeton men’s water polo (19–5, 5–0 Northeast Water Polo) bounced back with a victory against No. 11 Loyola Marymount University (LMU) (13–5, 5–0 Western Water Polo) with a 12–9 win. 

The following day, the Tigers started the Santa Clara Invitational Tournament with a win against No. 17 Santa Clara (8–11 overall, 1–3 WWPA) before beating Fresno Pacific the following day (2–18, 0–6). The third game of the tournament was a win against No. 16 Cal Baptist (21–10 overall, 3–2).

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Against the LMU Lions, the Tigers started off the first quarter strong with senior attacker Yurian Quinones scoring during the first possession of the game. After a few failed possessions by both teams, sophomore utility Roko Pozaric found the back of the net to give the Tigers a 2–0 lead.

This lead did not last long, and Princeton failed to score for the rest of the half. The Lions had a 3–2 lead at the break. The second half was an offensive showdown. Sophomore defender Vladan Mitrovic and junior center George Caras both scored to make it 4–3 for Princeton.

“I thought something really changed for us halfway through the LMU game,“ head coach Dustin Litvak told The Daily Princetonian, “The way we controlled the game from the second half really put us in a good place heading into the weekend.”

The Lions fought back and had a 5–4 lead with 3:49 left in the third period. However, Princeton scored three unanswered goals to take a two-goal lead. First-year utility Luke Johnston scored to tie it up before Pozaric got his second goal of the game, with senior utility Joan Coloma finishing the three-point run. 

Princeton outscored LMU 5–3 in the third period and duplicated this margin in the final period of the game. The last two goals were scored by none other than senior captain Keller Maloney, who joined his brother, junior attacker Pierce Maloney, on the scoresheet with two goals to seal the 12–9 victory for the Tigers. 

Against the Santa Clara Broncos, the Tigers got off to a slow start, trailing 4–2 after eight minutes with the only goals coming from Keller Maloney and Johnston. 

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The Tigers then had a strong second and third quarter to put the game away for the Broncos. Outsourcing Santa Clara 12–2 in 16 minutes, the Tigers had a 14–6 lead at the end of the third period. 

Litvak commented on the two strong quarters, telling the ‘Prince,’ “I was impressed with how we regained our composure and executed our game plan almost flawlessly after a rough start, the defensive energy was fantastic and really fueled our offense.”

The fourth quarter saw two more goals to end the game 16–8 for the Tigers. Keller Maloney and Johnston each scored a hat trick and seven other players found the back of the net to make two wins in a row for the Tigers.

Against Fresno Pacific, 11 Tigers scored, highlighted by four goals by Keller Maloney and a hat trick by Roko Pozaric. 

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After a 9–5 lead at halftime, Litvak’s team scored four unanswered goals to make an eight-goal cushion. Princeton held a comfortable lead the rest of the game en route to a 19–10 victory and a third-straight win. 

The second game of Saturday was against No. 16 ranked Cal Baptist University, who had beaten Princeton’s rival Harvard (15–7, 4–1 NWPC) by four goals the day before and were winners of ten out of their last eleven games. 

This didn’t matter for the Tigers, who got off to a dominant start against the Lancers, holding a 10–2 lead at the break. The Tigers did not take their foot off the gas, outscoring the Lancers 8–5 in the second half to seal a 18–7 victory.

Coach Litvak went as far as to call the game against Cal Baptist “one of the most complete games [they] have played during [his] time at Princeton,” mentioning how good the team was both offensively and defensively. He said he was also impressed that the team never relaxed and mentioned how “sustaining that energy put [them] in a great place heading into Sunday.”

The Tigers returned to action against No. 3 ranked Stanford University Sunday morning, securing a historic victory for the program. 

Pozaric and Keller Maloney each scored a hat trick to lead the Tigers once again. Pozaric and Keller Maloney had combined for 87 goals for the Tigers this season after the victory against Cal Baptist, leading Litvak’s team to a fourth-consecutive victory. 

Captain Keller Maloney praised Coach Litvak, telling the ‘Prince,’ “ever since Coach Litvak took over, we went about building a culture that believes we can beat any team in the country.”

And it certainly does look like this men’s water polo team can compete with the best of the best. The Tigers are a good bet to make the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row, but it looks like the energy around the team is different this year: they can win a national championship, something an east coast school has never done.

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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