Men’s water polo (7-6) split its two games at the Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center Saturday, beating Massachusetts Institute of Technology (2-4) before falling to the U.S. Air Force Academy (11-1) in their final game before the Bears begin conference play at Princeton Oct. 2.
In its first game of the day, Bruno charged ahead to a 16-8 victory against MIT with a seven-goal third quarter that saw six different players find the back of the net. “Our pressure defense was way better in that third quarter than it was in the first half,” said Head Coach Felix Mercado. “When you put that type of pressure defense on a team, you generate turnovers, and we were able to take advantage of MIT’s miscues and score the ball.”
According to Filip Aleksic ’24, the Bears’ depth and conditioning allowed them to capitalize on gaps in the MIT defense. “Usually the third quarter is when you can start outswimming the other team,” Aleksic said. “We had a lot of looks in the first two quarters that we were missing, and then we just started putting the ball in the cage.”
“We’ve been a third quarter team in almost every game,” added Max Boucher ’24. “Right when we catch the other team starting to become a little more tired, it’s our chance to put in a little extra effort to get above or catch up.”
Sophomores Aleksic and Connor Enright ’24 continued their strong rookie campaigns with hat tricks in the game against MIT. “Both Filip and Connor have extensive water polo background, and their ability to bring that experience and hit the ground running has been very essential for success,” Mercado said.
Aleksic, who has 14 goals on the season, credits his teammates for providing him with scoring opportunities. “I have a lot of guys who know what’s going on on offense around me, so I was able to get those passes at the right time,” he said. “It was the whole group contributing as a whole — it was just up to me to put that ball in the cage.”
With the win against MIT, Brown snapped a three-game losing skid after tough contests against Stanford University, George Washington University and Harvard earlier in the Princeton Invitational. “It was a good moment to bounce back,” Boucher said. “We had not only lost the last few games but we’ve also lost a couple guys to injuries and sickness over the past week or two. I’d say this last week, prior to the games, was probably our lowest point as a team in terms of morale.”
“It was very important for us (to get this win) because MIT is one of the teams in our conference and also because it was our home pool,” Aleksic added. “It’s really important to protect the house, especially when all our friends and all the fans come.”
In their second game of the day, the shorthanded Bears —who were missing goalkeepers Ugo Piovan ’22 and Joe Gallagher ’24, as well as center Anderson Todd ’25 and attacker Niko Bhatia ’22, all due to injuries – lost 10-14 to Air Force. The Falcons extended their mid-season win streak to five games with their victory. Injuries early in the campaign “throw a little bit of a monkey wrench (into the team’s season), because certain people are getting all the minutes in practice, and we’re asking guys who have less experience in those situations to step up and contribute,” Mercado said. “To be thrown in there cold ... it’s a difficult transition.”
Due to the injuries of both Gallagher and Piovan, walk-on goalkeeper Simeon Dong ’25 found himself in front of the net for both games Saturday. “Simeon Dong stepped in and had an amazing day yesterday,” Mercado said. “He came in as a freshman walk-on, we threw him between the pipes and he did well.”
“I would say both (Dong and Maxwell Patterson ’23) did a great job, especially defensively,” Aleksic said. “This tournament, even though we missed many of our good players, was a good opportunity for Simeon and Max. I think they stepped up and they proved themselves.”
Despite the solid performances from Dong and Patterson, unforced errors led to Brown’s undoing in its game against Air Force, according to Mercado. “Any time we got within one or tied the game, we made two or three mistakes that led to (Air Force’s) goal-scoring opportunities. We’re dealing with some injuries so we couldn’t afford those types of mental mistakes,” Mercado said. “But we watched film this morning and they were all correctable mistakes. … It’s not like we can’t beat teams like Air Force; we just have to limit our mistakes.”
As Brown heads into conference play beginning with its matchup against Princeton Oct. 2, Mercado says the team is more focused on itself than its opponent. “We need to be better at what we do,” he said. “I don’t want us to lose focus by paying too much attention to our opponent. If we’re not successful at what we’re supposed to do offensively and defensively, it doesn’t matter how well-prepared we are for what the other team does.”
“If we don’t make elementary mistakes, we can beat Princeton,” Enright said. “They are a good team, but we are really playing ourselves more than anything else. If we can play our game and set the tone, we shouldn’t have any worries about the result.”
Correction: A previous version of this article featured a photo of the women’s water polo team. The photo has since been replaced with a photo of the men’s water polo team. The Herald regrets the error.