Harvard’s Noah Harrison celebrates 2016 NCAA win over UC Davis. Photo Courtesy: Harvard Athletics
Swimming World contributor Michael Randazzo will provide previews of the conferences that will send teams to the 2017 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament to be held December 2 and 3 at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center. Teams arranged by projected order of finish.
Rankings are from the 2017 Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Men’s Preseason Poll.
2016—the first year of existence for the Northeast Water Polo Conference’s (NWPC)—was a banner year for Eastern water polo. The NWPC and the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference (MAWPC) came about as a split in the Collegiate Water Polo Association, providing both conferences a pathway to the NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament.
Last year also saw an historic run by Harvard, which won the NWPC’s first-ever championship and advanced to an NCAA play-in game against Bucknell, the MAWPC winner. A thrilling 14-13 overtime victory gave the Crimson an NCAA win for the first time ever, followed by an equally compelling 16-15 overtime win against UC Davis at Cal’s Spieker Pool, sending Harvard to its first-ever Final Four.
What will 2017 provide as an encore?
Following his team’s 14-13 semifinal loss to Harvard in the NWPC tournament, #11 Princeton (18-9, 8-2 NWPC) head coach Luis Nicolao (19th season; 1994 U.S. Naval Academy) realized that depth was critical if his Tigers were to make a run to the top of the East. He returns his two top scorers—junior Matt Payne (69 goals) and senior Jordan Colina (56 goals). Sophomore Sean Duncan, fully recovered from a late-season injury, should therefore improve on a NWPC Rookie of the Year performance. The addition of five freshmen should provide the depth necessary to get Princeton to the top of the NWPC in 2017.
Returning in net is senior Vojislav Mitrovic, who two years ago was the most valuable player at the CWPA Championships, propelling the Tigers to the 2015 NCAA tournament. If he’s on his game there’s no better team in the East. Major Loss: Jovan Jeremic.
Key Matchup: Harvard, Saturday, September 30, Princeton, NJ
By some measures, #15 Brown (22-8, 8-2 NWPC) just can’t catch a break. Felix Mercado’s (11th season; 2006 American Continental) team came into last year’s NWPC tournament as regular season champs with wins over all its conference rivals, including a 9-7 decision over Harvard In Cambridge and a 13-9 win over Princeton two weeks before the playoffs. But a hot Harvard squad beat them 11-7 for the NWPC’s first-ever championship title; just like that it’s the Crimson who make a storybook-run to the Final Four.
Don’t sleep on these Bears. Despite losing five starters from last season, they return seniors Tyler Kirchberg (44 goals), Tommy Bush (29 steals) and Rico Burke (22 goals, 33 steals), core members of the 2014 squad that broke a 24 year NCAA drought. Major Loss: goalie Luke Weiser.
Key Matchup: St. Francis, Saturday, October 28, Providence, RI
Last season #10 Harvard (27-7, 7-3 NWPC) enjoyed as good a post-season as any Eastern team ever has. Thrilling NCAA wins over Bucknell and UC Davis marked the Crimson as a team of destiny.
Unfortunately, that magic is gone —along with Harvard all-time career goal leader Noah Harrison—leaving Crimson head coach Ted Minnis (8th season; 2005 San Jose State) to look to a crop of four newcomers to push his team again to the top of the East. Returning to lead the offense are seniors Colin Chiapello (46 goals) and Harry Tafur (25 goals, 46 assists), junior Nick Bunn (44 goals). Junior Anthony Ridgley will again anchor the Crimson in goal.
Major Losses: Harrison and Joey Colton
Key Matchup: Princeton, Sunday, October 29, Providence, RI
Thanks to a seemingly unlimited supply of international talent, over the past decade #19 St. Francis Brooklyn (13-14, 5-5 NWPC) has had some of the best results in Eastern polo. Due to inconsistent recruiting—and a fluid coaching situation—the past three seasons have not been kind to the Terriers. There’s been a shake-up in Brooklyn Heights, with former player Bora Dimitrov (1st season; 2015 St. Francis Brooklyn) ascending to the top spot, just two years removed from representing Terrier red, navy and white.
With guidance from former head coaches Igor Zagoruiko (2014-16) and Carl Quigley (1975-2009), a healthy dose of confidence and a roster stocked with talent from both Europe and the U.S., Dimitrov should improve on last year’s lackluster campaign.
Captain Nikita Prohkin—fresh off a trip to the World University Games with Canada—has improved each of his two years as a Terrier, and his international experience should continue that progress. Add in a return to health by junior Bogdan Kostic, and a year of U.S. experience by goalie Victor Klauzer, and St. Francis will definitely be much improved in 2017. The question is: will their freshman coach have the ability to get the most out of a skilled roster—or are the Terriers simply a year away from contending for an NCAA berth? Major Loss: Ilija Djuretic, leading scorer in 2015 and captain in 2016.
Key Matchup: Princeton, Wednesday October 11, Brooklyn Heights, NY
Iona head coach Brian Kelly’s (23rd season; 1994 Iona) deep roster the past few years has not paid off in results, and the move to the NPWC has not made it any easier on the Gaels. Facing the East’s best two or three programs twice a year has meant that when it comes to NCAAs, Iona (10-21, 1-9 NWPC) has been on the outside looking in.
With 23 players on the 2017 roster, Kelly will again have lots of depths and also experience to help propel the Gaels. Ten upper classmen provide experience for a group of eight sophomores headlined by Lloyd Quinn, third last year with 33 goals. All-American Honorable Selection Mark Stauble—first in assists (46) and second in goals (55) in 2016—returns to for his senior year to anchor the offense.
Goalie Jorge Andres Torres, who as a freshman started 28 of Iona’s 31 matches, returns to improve a Gaels’ defense that was all-to porous last year (421 goals allowed). Major Loss: Zack Roper (58 goals).
Key Matchup: Fordham (Judge Cup) Thursday, October 26, New Rochelle, NY
By some measures, Massachusetts Institute of Technology head coach Dave Andriole (4th season, Yale 1986) has the toughest recruiting assignment in men’s varsity polo. One the most prestigious academic institutions in the world, MIT is entirely focused on attracting the absolutely best students, meaning athletics are often a distant second.
Andriole engineered a breakout season two years ago when his team produced a 14-15 record and beat St. Francis for the first time in 22 years. Last year the Red and Gray won 10 of 25 matches, going 1-9 in NWPC play. With 14 underclassmen—including six freshmen, MIT is likely to spend another year rebuilding. Junior Luka Knezevic (31 goals) and sophomore Clyde Huibregtse (32) return to lead the offense. Major Loss: goalie Nolan Kruse.
Key Matchup: Harvard, Saturday, October 7, Cambridge, MA (MIT)
All commentaries are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Swimming World Magazine nor its staff.