Bears take Ivy title, look to Eastern Championships

Sports Staff Writer
Monday, November 7, 2011

The No. 17 men’s water polo team has had two exhilarating weekends, beginning its postseason play with positive results. The team won the Ivy League Championships Oct. 29 and 30 at Harvard and finished second in an agonizing defeat to No. 20 St. Francis College in the finals of the Northern Division Championships Nov. 5 and 6 at MIT.  

After suffering a slow start to the season, the team is putting together the pieces to make the final push in tournament play. The Bears trounced No. 15 Princeton 16-5 in the Ivy finals following a 15-5 win over Harvard in the semifinals.  

“It was definitely huge for us to win,” said Cyrus Mojdehi ’12. “We’ve come so far from the first time we played. To come out and win in a convincing fashion, it was a great step forward.”

The championship victory, the first for any player currently in Brown’s program, was an avenging win against a Princeton team that edged out Brown by one goal in last year’s finals.  

Play by Svetozar Stefanovic ’13 (five goals, two steals, eight ejections drawn) and Henry Fox ’15 (five goals, three assists, seven steals) led to the crooked final score.  

James McNamara ’14 (three goals, one assist, one steal), Chris Culin ’14 (one goal, two steals) and Nick Deaver ’15 (four assists) also contributed to the victory. Bruno’s stingy defense in the finals was anchored by the impressive play of goalkeeper Walker Shockley ’14, who made eight saves.  

After celebrating the win, the team had a quick turnaround and moved on to the Northern Division Championships.  

The team cruised through the first two rounds, dismantling Connecticut College 17-3 and Harvard again 18-9 en route to the championship game.  

The team’s opponent in the finals, St. Francis, was a familiar foe, and the Bears were hungry to avenge an early season loss to the Terriers.

“We lost to St. Francis earlier in the season by nine,” said captain Toby Espinosa ’12. “At the end of the game, it wasn’t really a game anymore.”

But the teams’ second meeting was far from the previous one-sided matchup. The sides played evenly through regulation and four periods of overtime play, but the Bears fell in an epic game in the fifth overtime frame 10-9.

“The game was an hour and a half long. Three of our starters fouled out,” Espinosa said. “It was a testament to the team as a whole. When something like that happens to a team, regularly the team implodes, and the game is over.”

The Bears relied on their defense to erase a three-goal first-half deficit, leaving the two teams notched at nine heading into overtime. The first two quarters ended without any scoring, leading to sudden-death play. In the fifth overtime period, the Terriers finally snuck one past Shockley for the win.  

“No one thought we were going to lose until that last goal crossed the line,” Mojdehi said. “Guys who usually don’t work together played together. It was disappointing, but we learned a lot.”

“We’ve been training all season incredibly hard. You could see it in our defense the last half of the game,” Espinosa said. “Our defense is our pride. Our offense then comes from that.”

The final score does not fully reflect the strength of Brown’s play against a perennial powerhouse, he said.  

“It was hard losing, but it gives us the chip on our shoulders,” Espinosa said. “It gives us the emotional backing to say we have two weeks until Easterns.”

The Northern Championships determined seeding for the CWPA Eastern Championship Nov. 18-20, the winner of which receives a berth to the NCAA Water Polo Championships. Brown will be the No. 2 seed behind St. Francis.

“We put together a nice string of wins,” Espinosa said. “They were all kind of stepping stones to Easterns and an automatic berth to the final four.”

At the Eastern Championship, Brown has been placed in a bracket with No. 19 Bucknell University, Princeton and No. 16 Navy. The Bears could get a rematch against St. Francis in the championship.

The proximity of this year’s Eastern Championship at Harvard lends a sense of comfort to a team that is without a home pool and is always stuck on the road.

“We’re road warriors,” Mojdehi said. “We’re always on the road getting cheered against, but we use that to our advantage. But having support and a fan base there will be crucial for us.”

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