The men’s water polo team (20-14, 5-4 Northeast Water Polo Conference) closed out its 2021 campaign with a third-place finish in the NWPC Championship over the weekend. The fourth-seeded Bears cruised past fifth-seeded Iona College (9-19, 3-9 NWPC) with a 14-11 victory Friday before falling 14-9 to Princeton (25-7, 8-2 NWPC) Saturday. Brown went on to defeat second-seeded Harvard (26-6, 9-2 NWPC) 15-13 to secure third place in the conference Sunday.
Brown 14, Iona 11
After finishing the first quarter tied at four with Iona, Connor Enright ’24 and Gabe Chang ’25 poured in two goals to give Brown a lead that it would hold for the rest of the game. The Bears then added two more goals, including the second of the game for Cole Atwell ’23, to take an 8-5 lead into halftime.
According to Head Coach Felix Mercado, Brown felt comfortable against Iona but was careful not to underestimate the Gaels. “We definitely didn’t overlook Iona,” Mercado said. “But at the end, I never felt like we were in any danger of not winning the game.”
Brown carried its momentum into the second half and extended its lead to 10-5 with two more goals from Chang and Atwell. But the Gaels responded, going on a 5-2 run that brought them within two of the Bears.
Mercado acknowledged that the Bears’ complacency with their lead allowed Iona to get back in the game. “At one point it was 10-5, and then I probably prematurely took my foot off the gas a little bit, and they made a little run at us,” Mercado said.
After a goal from Filip Aleksic ’24 pushed Brown’s lead to three at the start of the fourth quarter, the Bears shut down Iona’s offense, allowing just one goal for the rest of the game. During the final two minutes of the game, Andrew Penner ’22 put the nail in the coffin with his third goal to give the Bears a comfortable 14-11 victory.
The win was Mercado’s 300th as head coach at Brown. “I didn't even know about it — I’m not a big stat guy. My mother-in-law sent me a text congratulating me, and I didn’t know what I did.” Mercado said. “I love Brown, and I'm proud of my athletes. They should get the recognition for those 300 wins as much as me because they're the ones that are putting the ball in the back of the cage.”
According to Max Boucher ’24, Mercado provided a grounding presence for the Bears during their games throughout the season. “He grounded us and brought us back to who we are as a team when we were drifting away from that certain points in the season,” Boucher said. “It was nice to give him his 300th win, but we're looking forward to (getting) him to more than 300.”
Brown 9, Princeton 14
Princeton came out strong against the Bears on Saturday, taking a 2-0 lead to start the game and pushing it to 6-2 during the second quarter. In the minutes leading up to halftime, Atwell, Penner and Chang found the back of the cage four times and Princeton scored once. After Brown entered halftime trailing by just one, Penner’s goal early in the third quarter tied the game at seven.
According to Mercado, Brown’s push to come back after trailing 6-2 took a significant amount of energy from the team. “We actually battled back and we tied it to seven — I think that took a lot of energy from us,” Mercado said.
But the Tigers rebounded after Penner's goal and pulled away to a two-goal lead.
During the fourth quarter, referees called a brutality foul on Aleksic, removing him from the game and forcing the Bears to continue with one fewer player in the water. According to Boucher, the referees wrongfully attributed the foul to Aleksic.
“Filip got kicked out for brutality despite not being near where the brutality occurred,” Boucher said. “A brutality is basically a fist or something being seen out of the water trying to hurt someone. It's a pretty serious call. And it definitely shouldn't be mistaken.”
Brown’s coaching staff appealed the decision and called for the referees to review the play, but the referees declined, citing a rule which states that they will only review a video in the case of a visible injury. “You can see in the video that I was two yards from the player. I couldn’t have actually kicked him or punched him,” Aleksic said.
Aleksic’s penalty resulted in a suspension for the following game, preventing him from participating in Sunday’s matchup against Harvard.
Princeton took advantage of Aleksic’s absence and scored two unanswered goals in the game’s final minutes to take the 14-9 victory. According to Boucher, Aleksic's ejection made it difficult for the Bears to rally for a comeback. “That really knocked us off balance, and that's where we lost it — right after that call,” Boucher said. “It wasn't so much that we were gassed, it was just that the energy kind of got sapped from us by the circumstances.”
With the win, Princeton advanced to the NWPC final, where they defeated third-seeded St. Francis College (16-7, 6-3 NWPC) 9-6 to secure the conference championship Sunday. “Princeton was too good of a team not to take advantage of our critical unforced errors,” Mercado said. “We were definitely good enough to beat them, but we had to play near perfect. We just fell short.”
Brown 15, Harvard 13
The Bears secured third place in the conference with their victory over second-seeded Harvard on Sunday. Brown fought back from a fourth-quarter deficit to clinch a 15-13 win.
The Bears trailed by one goal entering the fourth quarter but quickly took the lead on a pair of goals from Stephen Salle ’22 and Ben Kirshon ’25. Harvard fought back and tied the game at 13 with three minutes remaining.
Atwell broke the scoring drought on a go-ahead goal with just 27 seconds left. Ben Resko ’25 punctuated the win by adding one more goal in the final five seconds of the match.
Brown’s scoring effort came from a combination of players, including both first-years and seniors. “Credit to our seniors, Andrew Penner, Ugo Piovan (’22) and Stephen Salle, who really contributed to that win,” Mercado said. “The team rallied around them to make sure that they left on a high note.”
Penner, Piovan and Aleksic were each named to the 2021 NWPC All-Conference Team, the league announced Saturday.
"It was awesome for the seniors to not only end on the win but beat Harvard, one of our biggest rivals, which is something they hadn't done since their freshman year,” Boucher added.
The Bears’ win against Harvard was their first since the 2018 season. “We played Harvard three times this year before the third place game, and we lost every time — it wasn't even really close,” Boucher said. “This win showed that when we all come together and put all the pieces together, we really can beat these teams that we've lost to — even Princeton.”
For younger players like Aleksic, who was named NWPC sophomore of the year, the victory served as an indication of the program’s positive direction. “We are a very young team. And I think the seniors had a really good season, but I also think that a lot of freshmen and sophomores stepped up this season, which is really nice to see,” Aleksic said. “I'm really looking forward to the future of this program. We definitely proved that we can be a championship team.”
Mercado agreed that the team’s young core positions it for success in coming years. “We probably relied more on first-year players more than any other team in our conference, at least (compared to) the other two Ivies. We really needed them. These sophomores and freshmen are a special group.”
Correction: A previous version of this article and photo caption misspelled the last name of Filip Aleksic ’24. Additionally, due to a transcription error, a previous version of this article also misquoted Aleksic saying: “You can see in the video that I was ten yards from the player,” regarding the brutality foul called on him in the game against Princeton. In fact, he said he was two yards from the player. The Herald regrets the errors.