Men’s water polo (7–0 overall, 0–0 Northeast Water Polo Conference) returned to DeNunzio Pool this weekend as they hosted the Princeton Invitational Tournament. 11 teams from across the nation traveled to New Jersey to play at DeNunzio Pool, including five teams ranked in the top 20. The Tigers remained undefeated, going 5–0 and bringing their season record to 7–0. This is the Tigers best start to the season since 2017 when they also began 7–0 before dropping a match to No. 4 University of California — Los Angeles (UCLA).
Defense shines against No. 15 Cal Baptist
The first game of the weekend was against the No. 16 Cal Baptist Lancers (4–4, 0–0 West Coast Conference). The defense shined for the Tigers, as they held the Lancers to just seven goals. Princeton has not let any of its seven opponents on the season score double digit goals. Ever since head coach Dustin Litvak was hired in 2018, the players have bought into his defensive system incredibly well. Rival coaches have often called Litvak one of the best in the country.
The Lancers did score the first goal of the contest, but Princeton would respond right away scoring five unanswered to take a commanding 5–1 lead.
After two goals by the Lancers to cut the Tiger lead to two, junior utility Roko Pozaric would score on a five meter to give Princeton a 6–3 lead. Right before halftime, junior defender Vladan Mitrovic would score an amazing goal from distance to make it 7–3.
The third period was all Tigers as they outscored the Lancers 7–1 to take a comfortable 14–4 lead. The Tiger defense seemed to be everywhere, limiting the Lancers offense. Pozaric would score his third of the game, marking his second hat-trick of the season. Sophomore utility JP Ohl would also score two in the third to pace the Tigers.
Ohl is a contributing Sports writer for the 'Prince.'
The fourth quarter was not very exciting for fans as both teams limited each other on offense. Senior center George Caras would pick up his second straight hat trick. Princeton would hold Cal Baptist to four goals with about two minutes left. However, the Lancers would get three consolation goals to end the contest 15–7 in Princeton's favor.
Strong second half helps pace Tigers to convincing victory over Wagner
The second game of the weekend came early Saturday morning against the Wagner Seahawks (5–3, 1–0 Mid Atlantic Water Polo Conference). It took some time for the Tigers to settle into the matchup as they missed some opportunities to take a comfortable lead in the first half.
Sophomore utility Logan McCarroll would score the Tigers third goal of the first period to give them an early 3–1 lead. Junior attacker Gavin Molloy and Caras were the two other Tiger goal-scorers in the first.
The Seahawks would keep things interesting in the second quarter. With just over three minutes remaining in the first half, they cut the lead to 4–3. Mitrovic and junior utility Mason Killion would score to make it 6–3 heading into the halftime break.
The Tigers would break away in the third quarter. Mitrovic would seal his hat trick while McCarroll and Pozaric would each score as well to make it 12–5 heading into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter was highlighted by a goal from first-year utility Finn LeSieur. LeSieur is coming off an impressive senior season for Newport Harbor High School that saw him win the CIF Southern Section Open Division Championship. In the summer, he helped lead Newport’s club team to the Junior Olympics title, winning MVP of the tournament. LeSieur will surely be a big contributor to Litvak’s squad this season.
Litvak spoke very highly of his four first-year recruits.
“We have an exceptional class of first-years. Not only are they performing well in games, but they are also having a large impact on our culture,” Litvak told the Daily Princetonian. "Tiggy [Tigran Sennett] is extremely athletic, talented, and natural in the water. Finn and Will [Swart] are two of the smartest, most hard working, competitive athletes I’ve ever coached. They are so mature and disciplined for their age, it really is inspiring. They remind me of when I got to coach Paul Reynolds at UCLA in terms of their approach to everything they do.”
Towards the end of the game, sophomore utility Luke Johnston would score two goals. Johnston, who was an important contributor to last year’s squad, has been slowly reintegrating himself into the lineup while recovering from an injury.
The game would end with a 17–5 Princeton victory as they held Wagner scoreless in the fourth.
Pozaric stars in yet another ranked win over Santa Clara
Pozaric’s resume speaks for itself. In his first two seasons with the Tigers, the junior from Zagreb, Croatia had 135 goals, 80 assists, and 92 steals with 73 ejections drawn. He certainly showed why he was one of the best players in the nation Saturday night when he scored five goals in a win over the No. 19 ranked Santa Clara Broncos (4–2, 0–0 West Coast Conference).
The Broncos put the pressure early on taking a 1–0 just a couple minutes into the contest. Holding the Tigers scoreless for over five minutes, the Broncos were holding their own on Saturday night in front of a sold out crowd at DeNunzio Pool.
However, Mitrovic would score from the top of the key to tie things up before Pozaric would score back to back goals to give Princeton a 3–1 lead.
The first half of the second quarter was a scoreless affair as both teams struggled to get good looks offensively. With just under four minutes remaining, Pozaric would get his first half hat trick after a truly sensational finish. The Tigers and Broncos would exchange goals with senior attacker Yurian Quinones scoring to make it 5–2 at the break.
In the third period, the Broncos were still somewhat holding on. Pozaric would score his fourth of the game early in the third after a beautiful pass from Quinones. After Santa Clara beat Temkin in the goal, Killion would score to make it 7–3. Pozaric would find his fifth goal of the game late in the third period. Five is the second highest Pozaric has scored in his Princeton career.
The fourth quarter was finally the breakaway that Litvak and his coaching staff were looking for. The Tigers were paced by Mitrovic in the fourth quarter who would score two of the six Tiger goals en route to a 15–7 win over Santa Clara.
Last year, the Tigers struggled against Santa Clara during the Princeton Invitational, winning 9–8. Later in the season during their now annual trip to California, they would beat them 16–8. The Tigers comfortable early season win over the Broncos shows the true potential of this squad heading into a year with many high expectations for the squad.
SportsCenter Top 10 as Mitrovic shows off his skillset in a comfortable win vs. Chapman
As many of their friends prepared for Lawnparties, the Tigers did what they do best — scored a lot of goals. Like they have done all season, the squad would score double digit goals in a comfortable 17–8 win versus Division Three opponent Chapman (0–4 overall, 0–0 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference).
McCarroll would get the party started for Litvak’s squad with an easy finish from the center position. After the Tigers would score a couple more, Mitrovic would score an incredible goal with under a minute left. After a Quinones lob inside, Mitrovic would spin and score, leaving no hope for the Broncos goalkeeper. The goal would make the Sports Center Daily Top 10.
“Vladan [Mitrovic] is one of the best players in college water polo on both ends of the pool. He came back in tremendous physical shape and has had a great start,” Litvak told the ‘Prince’. “Just like his first two years, we expect him to get better and better as the season goes along. As well as he played last year, he will be the first to tell you that he is capable of more when he is in peak shape.”
The second period showed the fighting spirit of the Panthers who would keep score with the Tigers, with each side scoring four each. First-year attacker William Swart would score in the second while Mitrovic would complete a first half hat trick.
The second half would be all Princeton with the Panthers running out of gas in their oxygen tank. The game would be out of reach for Chapman early on during the third period as the Tigers would score four straight to start the half. The highlight of the second half was Caras securing his hat trick and Mitrovic tying his career high with four goals for the Tigers.
“I consider this just as an expected byproduct of consistent work since my [firstyear],” Mitrovic told the ‘Prince’. “I do not think or feel too much right now as it is very early in the season, but I want to express my gratitude to the coaching staff and my teammates for their support, which has brought me to this position.”
Kovács shines with 15 saves to keep Fordham at bay during a 15–9 win.
If you keep up with East Coast water polo, you know the rivalry between the Fordham Rams (4–3, 0–0 MAWPC) and the Princeton Tigers. The two sides have played four times in the past two seasons, with the Tigers winning all four matchups by only one goal — yes, you read that correctly.
The Rams would be looking for revenge after the Tigers ended their season in 2021 and 2022. Unfortunately for the Rams, they will have to wait until at least November to get revenge on Princeton.
After Princeton conceded the first goal of the game, Mitrovic, Quinones, and Killion all scored to make it 3–1 Tigers. The second quarter would be frustrating for the Rams. A stellar performance by first-year goalie Kristof Kovács would deny the Rams on multiple occasions. Kovács, a Hungarian junior national team goalie, was one of the four recruits for Litvak. Goals by Mitrovic, Pozaric, and McCarroll would make it 6–2 Princeton at half.
In a very physical second half that saw two Rams rolled from the game, the Tigers would stay disciplined and hold their first-half lead throughout the second half. Swart would score his first of the contest with Ohl and McCarroll contributing to make it 9–5 after 24 minutes.
In the fourth quarter, Princeton would wave goodbye to any potential comeback by Fordham, ripping away six goals. Vladan would cap off a 15 goal weekend. Senior captain and attacker Pierce Maloney would score two goals in the fourth to seal the 5–0 weekend for Princeton.
“While they aren’t always the first to get credit for our success, they are a driving force in the way we practice and a big reason why the freshmen are ready to perform well so early in the season,” Litvak said when referring to Maloney and his other captains, Quinones, Rottenberg, and Roose.
For its seven straight game, Princeton would hold its opponent to single digits with the help of Kovács who had 15 crucial saves in his best game yet.
“We are extremely fortunate to have two of the best goalies [Temkin and Kovács] in college water polo,” Litvak said. “Both have proven themselves to be among the best in their respective countries in their age groups. It makes for very competitive practices and will undoubtedly help our shooting as well as they are very tough to score on.”
The Tigers return to the pool on Saturday, September 16 as they take a road trip south to Pennsylvania to play in the Bucknell Invite. The Tigers will play Air Force (5–3, 0–0 WCC) at 11:20 AM EST and host Bucknell (2–5, 0–0 MAWPC) at 3:20 PM EST. With a win, the Tigers would be looking at their best start to a season since 2004 when they started 10–0.
Litvak put it best: “We are a very deep team this year, and, if the guys keep training as hard as they have so far, I really can’t tell you what our ceiling is, but I’m excited.”
Hayk Yengibaryan is an associate editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’ Please send corrections to corrections[at]dailyprincetonian.com.