When the Princeton men’s water polo team (24–5 overall, 10–0 Northeast Water Polo Conference) traveled to Cambridge for two games on Sunday, they had a clear goal in mind: end the regular season undefeated.
The program’s last undefeated regular season came in 2015 when the squad was in the Southern Division Conference, a conference that no longer exists today. This year marks the team’s first undefeated regular season in the Northeast Water Polo Conference (NWPC).
In the first game of the day, they defeated the Harvard Crimson (19–8, 8–2) 10–7 by displaying consistently strong defense. In the second game of the day, the Tigers ended the regular season in dominant fashion, beating the MIT Engineers (6–17, 1–10) 22–5.
Seventeen seconds into the first contest, senior utility Joan Coloma scored first against the Crimson. However, Harvard’s James Rozolis-Hill responded with a penalty shot. The Crimson’s first-year sensation is leading the nation in goals, with 113 on the season, a record for Harvard.
Senior utility Ryan Neapole quickly found the back of the net at the end of the shot clock. Rozolis-Hill found the back of the net again, but senior attacker Yurian Quinones responded with his 35th tally of the season from the top of the key.
After multiple stops by both defenses, it was none other than sophomore utility Roko Pozaric scoring for the Tigers. It sure seems when the Tigers need a goal, Pozaric is there; he leads the Tigers in goals and steals this season, and he has the second-highest number of shots this season.
With one minute left in the quarter, senior goalie Antonio Knez stopped Rozolis-Hill from the center cage to keep the Princeton advantage at 4–2.
“Our energy was much better in Sunday’s games than it was on Saturday,” Head Coach Dustin Litvak told The Daily Princetonian. “I thought we came out strong offensively. Our effort was great all around, but again, our commitment to our system is just as important.”
In the second period, it was Pozaric scoring once again, this time with a cross-cage shot on a man-up advantage to make it 5–2 for the Tigers. However, the Crimson, with the support of a loud crowd on Sunday morning, cut the lead back to two.
Once again, the Tigers’ power play led to another goal for them with senior attacker Keller Maloney scoring this time around. Harvard scored another goal to take it to the half, with Princeton holding a 6–4 advantage.
The third period saw Harvard come out on the front foot with a quick goal to cut the Tigers’ lead back down to one.
With 2:55 left in the third period, junior attacker Pierce Maloney scored for the Tigers. Shortly after, first-year utility Logan McCarroll scored from the center position to make it 8–5 Princeton. Harvard found the back of the net once more in the third period to give themselves a small chance in the fourth.
When asked about the play of McCarroll, Litvak told the ‘Prince,’ “Logan has had a phenomenal year ... He’s kind of a Swiss army knife for us. I feel comfortable putting him pretty much anywhere in the pool.”
“He has a great feel for the game,“ Litvak added. “He is a lock-down defender which helps a lot against a team like Harvard.”
McCarroll played at center in the absence of first-year utility Luke Johnston.
“In terms of where we use him when Luke comes back,“ Litvak added, “I don’t yet know, but it’s a good problem to have.”
The fourth period saw Harvard getting the opening goal and putting pressure on their conference rivals. The Tigers failed to score for the first six minutes of the final period.
Again, whenever the team needed a goal, Pozaric was there. With 2:01 left in the game, Pozaric scored one of his best goals of the season with a wonderful turn and finish past Harvard goalie Noah Hodge.
“I felt that the team energy was much better today than during the Brown game. Our energy helped us seal the win,” Pozaric told the ‘Prince.’
After a missed opportunity by Harvard, Pozaric sealed the game with a skip shot from the top of the key, which put the game out of reach and handed the Crimson only their second loss of the conference season.
Seven goals was the second-lowest tally by Harvard this season. Their lowest tally also came in a matchup against Litvak and his squad on Oct. 2, in a 9–6 win for Princeton.
“I believe we could have held them to five or less if we were consistent in our defensive structure,” Litvak said.
In the second game of the afternoon, the Tigers traveled down the road to play the MIT Engineers. Princeton would go on to hand MIT their biggest loss of the season with a 22–5 win.
Junior center George Caras simply could not be guarded, finishing with six goals in the afternoon, a career high. Senior attacker Nick Hovsmith would also score his first career hat trick during the win.
Junior utility Matej Sekulic would also score a hat trick, his career-high for Princeton. The 22 goals scored by Litvak’s team was the fourth-highest in program history and officially completed the undefeated regular season.
The Tigers will have the next 12 days to prepare for the conference tournament that will take place at Brown University. The Tigers enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed and heavy favorites to repeat as NWPC Champions and qualify for the NCAA tournament for the second year in a row.
With the regular season over, the home stretch for the Tigers is now officially here. In less than a month’s time, the team will have the opportunity to showcase its potential on the national stage.
“Our main focus for the next two weeks is to keep improving as a team and prepare for our conference tournament,” Pozaric said. “Our goal is a national championship. However, we must take it one step at a time and win our conference first.”
Hayk Yengibaryan is a contributor to the sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please direct any corrections requests to email@example.com.