Princeton’s men’s water polo (26–5 overall, 10–0 Northeast Water Polo Conference) entered the NWPC Tournament as the No. 1 seed with hopes to earn another conference title. This afternoon, the Tigers became one step closer to their goal with a 12–7 semi-final win over Brown (16–16, 4–6).
The teams had competed against each other twice earlier in the regular season. At home on Oct. 1, the Tigers won 14–8. When they visited Brown on Nov. 5, the Tigers earned a narrow 9–8 victory.
According to Head Coach Dustin Litvak, the close call against the Brown Bears in their most recent match-up had a major impact on the team this time around.
“No question, Brown is a good team,” Litvak told The Daily Princetonian. “Last time we played them, we clearly overlooked them and they gave us a scare, almost winning the game. It definitely made us refocus. When you get down to this point of the year, everyone is playing for their lives.”
The game opened with a familiar sight for many Tiger fans — sophomore utility Roko Pozaric winning the opening sprint and giving Princeton the possession of the ball.
The opening period of the game saw both defenses put the respective offenses at a standstill in the first four minutes. With three minutes and 53 seconds left, sophomore defender Vladan Mitrovic opened the scoring for the Tigers.
After more defensive dominance by the Tigers, junior attacker Pierce Maloney and sophomore utility Isaac Rotenberg both earned a spot on the scoresheet, completing a first period shutout of the Bears by Princeton, 3–0.
After Brown finally scored with just over three minutes remaining in the second, first-year utility Logan McCarroll drew a five meter penalty for the Tigers. The penalty allowed senior attacker Keller Maloney to sneak the ball into the top left of the net to make it 4–1 Princeton.
While McCarroll later scorde a goal, he made other crucial plays to help the Tigers, drawing three exclusions and the penalty for the Tigers.
“The game was an all around team effort. Keeping them to two goals at half was big for us and gave us momentum to pull away in the third,” McCarroll told the ‘Prince.’
A goal later in the period by the Bears led the teams into halftime with Princeton holding a 4–2 advantage.
In the first half, Princeton went 2-for-12 on man-up plays. Along with strong defenses by both sides, this resulted in a lower-scoring half than expected. To switch things up, the Bears opened the scoring to start the half, cutting the lead to one with six minutes remaining.
Princeton would get another goal from Keller Maloney before Brown responded to make it 5–4, Tigers. This goal, however, would be the Bears’ last goal of the period.
“I think the third quarter was good, especially to halt [Brown’s] momentum,” Keller Maloney said. “We held them to only two goals and they never got a look at the cage after the second goal. That is so critical when playing in tournament games against great teams like Brown.”
First-year utility Luke Johnston buried a shot into the back of the net to make it 6–4 Princeton, starting an important run. Pozaric would score his first of the game and Pierce Maloney would convert once more for the Tigers to make it 8–4 with 40 seconds remaining in the third. In the closing seconds of the period, sophomore attacker Gavin Molloy netted another to make it four unanswered goals by Princeton.
“Our defense was holding strong throughout the entirety of the third period,” Litvak told the ‘Prince.’ “Especially getting the last-second goal, that was big heading into the fourth period.”
Brown would show a fighting spirit in the fourth, going on a 3–1 run. The lone Princeton goal during the Bears’ run would be Mitrovic’s second of the game, giving the Tigers a 10–7 lead.
With 1:27 remaining, Pozaric scored to give Princeton a four goal cushion. Molloy would then put the finishing touches on a 12–7 victory for the Tigers.
First-year West Temkin, who started in goal for Princeton, made 12 crucial saves throughout the day. He was named the player of the game by the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA). Brown was led by attacker Cole Atwell and center Ilias Stothart, who each scored three goals for the Bears.
Princeton, with another win under their belts, advanced to the championship game of the NWPC Tournament.
“We have to calm down and play the same way we’ve been playing all year, which has given us success; I don’t believe we need to do anything different tomorrow,” Litvak said. “There’s things we did well and things we can improve on during tomorrow’s championship game.”
In the semifinal game between Saint Francis-Brooklyn (21–10, 6–4) and Harvard (21–9, 8–2), Saint Francis took the 13–8 win. The championship will take place tomorrow, Nov. 20, at 1 p.m. — a rematch of last year’s title game in which the Tigers won 9–6 at DeNunzio Pool.
“For tomorrow, we will be successful if we continue taking pride in our defense by staying locked in for the full 30 seconds and pressing them for as long as we can,” McCarroll told the ‘Prince.’ “It will be very difficult to beat us if we stick to our defensive game plan and get everyone involved offensively.”
Hayk Yengibaryan is a contributor to the sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to corrections at dailyprincetonian.com.