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Undefeated men’s water polo picks up two wins at Bucknell Invite as they head into a crucial weekend

Waterpolo players swim in pool
First-year goalie Kristof Kovács had 19 saves against Air Force.
Photo Courtesy of Nicole Maloney.

No. 5 men’s water polo (9–0 overall, 0–0 Northwest Water Polo Conference) continued their undefeated streak on Saturday afternoon when they went 2–0 against the No.20 ranked U.S. Air Force Academy (7–6 overall, 0–0 West Coast Conference) and Bucknell University (3–7 overall, 0–0 Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference) at the Bucknell Invitational in Lewisburg, PA.

The first game of the day against Air Force was a rather sluggish one through the first three quarters. The Tigers had scored only six goals through the first three quarters of the game and lacked offensive consistency, leading 6–2 after three.


“Our energy was a little low in the Air Force game,” head coach Dustin Litvak told the Daily Princetonian. “We talked a lot about being consistent, and we were anything but that game.”

Thankfully, the Tigers would pick it up in the fourth quarter. They scored seven unanswered goals to pick up a 13–2 win. The play of first-year goalie Kristóf Kovács is worth highlighting, as he had 19 saves and held Air Force to two goals. The last time the Tigers had held an opponent to two goals was September 5, 2021, when they held Johns Hopkins to two in a 17–2 victory. 

“Kristóf was ready to play and was incredible in the goal or that game would have been much closer,” Litvak told the ‘Prince’. 

Senior captain attacker Pierce Maloney and junior star utility Roko Pozaric led the way for the Tigers in the first match. Both players had three goals and two assists in the contest, helping pace Litvak’s squad.

The second game of the day was against Bucknell, a regular annual opponent for the Tigers. Princeton held a 49–16 record against the Bison heading into the matchup. With a fast start coming out of the gates, the Tigers would comfortably get their 50th win versus the Bison in a 13–7 win. 

The 50 wins against Bucknell is the most the Tigers have had against any opponent in their 27-year history. Ironically, the program’s first game came against Bucknell in 1996. 


The first half was an electric start by Princeton, who led 9–3 at halftime. It was clear that they were  hungry after their performance in the morning. 

“We talked a lot after that game about what makes this program and this team special, and I was very happy with how the team responded in the afternoon game against Bucknell,” Litvak added.  “We came out fast with a 3-0 lead very early in the game and led by 7-8 goals most of the way until they scored two late.”

The second half was a very even affair as Litvak rotated his lineup, testing various gameplans. Both sides would score two in the third and fourth en route to a 13–7 win for the Tigers against the Bison. Pozaric once again was the star for the Tigers with his fifth hat trick of the season. Seven other Tigers got on the scoresheet while sophomore goalie West Temkin had 12 saves.

Litvak was happy with the afternoon response and hopes that it serves as a lesson moving forward. 

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“We still have a lot of work to do to reach our potential as a group, but without a consistent approach to every practice and every game, we won’t get there. Saturday morning was a valuable lesson and again, it was great to see us turn it around just a few hours later.”

Now, with a record of 9–0, one of the last teams standing with an undefeated record, and the highest ranking in program history, the Tigers travel to Los Angeles on Thursday afternoon to play in the best regular season tournament of the year. 

The Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Invitational Tournament is an annual tournament that brings together the best teams from across the country in an in-season tournament. This coming weekend, the top six teams in the country will all participate along with 11 of the top 14 in a 15 team tournament hosted by the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) and University of Southern California (USC). 

“This is definitely an exciting week, and we are looking forward to playing in the best regular season tournament of the year,” Litvak said about the upcoming weekend. “We have spent much of the first month of the season working on ourselves and while we are of course still doing that, we will spend a little more time this week preparing for our opponents than we have so far.”

The Tigers will play first against the No. 11 ranked Cal Baptist Lancers (6–4 overall, 0–0 West Coast Conference) at UCLA at 3:00 PM EDT (12 PM local time). The Tigers played the Lancers 10 days ago during the Princeton Invitational win which resulted in a 15–7 win for Princeton. 

Whatever happens Friday afternoon, they will have a Saturday morning showdown versus the No. 6 ranked Stanford Cardinal (6–2 overall, 0–1 MPSF). The Cardinals won the 2019 national championship and are 11 time national champions. They are also the defending MPSF Invitational champions.

Last year, the Tigers made program history by beating the Cardinals, handing Stanford their first loss ever to an East Coast school and marked the first time Princeton has beat a big four powerhouse program (UCLA, USC, Stanford, Cal). 

"There will be a lot of buzz about our Stanford game after we beat them last year," said Litvak. "But the reality is they are a different team, we are a different team, so last year has no bearing on this match if we do see them this weekend.”

Notably, the Cardinals are coached by Brian Flacks, the former head coach of Harvard Westlake High School in Studio City, CA. Senior center George Caras and captain Pierce Maloney were coached by Flacks in high school. 

“We’re gonna take the tournament game by game, and win every game that we earn and is put in front of us,” sophomore utility JP Ohl told the ‘Prince’. 

All eyes will be on the Tigers in the water polo world this weekend. Can the Tigers march into California and put the nation on notice once again — that they can and will compete for a national championship? Flacks and his squad will be ready, hoping to prevent another loss to the Tigers. 

“I believe we belong in the conversation with the best teams and this weekend will be a great test of where we are at right now and what we need to work on after we get back,” Litvak said.

Hayk Yengibaryan is an associate editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’

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