A Staggering Weekend in East Coast College Water Polo

A text exchange with an internationally experienced coach last week:

TWp: Lb [Long Beach State] beat cal today

Friend: Whattttt?

TWp: At cal too

Friend: Noooo

So far, stunned silence about this weekend’s topsy-turvy outcomes from the East Coast.

It’s sufficient to say that if you picked Bucknell to win Southern’s and Mercyhurst to shock two favored squads on the way to the runner-up spot you will have a fine career in financial planning. Meanwhile in Rhode Island, St. Francis arose from its season-long hibernation to rally from a two-goal fourth-quarter deficit to beat favored Brown in the Northern Division Championship match — in the Bears’ home pool.

Perhaps all will return to “normal” as Eastern Championships get under way November 16th at Princeton: Navy and Brown will be restored to their expected places as eastern favorites. But until then, East Coast collegiate water polo has been transformed.

An early-season upset of Brown made Johns Hopkins the surprising upstart in 2012. The Bears then recovered, ran off 18 straight wins after a six-point loss to UCLA, and stood atop eastern rankings the last couple weeks. Fans who ached for new blood and interesting stories in collegiate water polo could be encouraged by these developments, and by the performances of teams like Long Beach and Santa Barbara in the West.

But not even the most passionate fan could have predicted a Lakers vs. Bison Southern Division final.

Colleague Jeremy Mauss provides the details of ‘Hurst’s historic run to the championship match, a defining one for the Division II squad so often and drearily described as the team with “potential.” The experienced roster may be the most geographically diverse in all of collegiate water polo; the Princeton victory featured players from Ontario, Madrid; Riverside, and Stafford, Virginia.

Bucknell too deserves credit for a steady, impressive performance in their home pool after an inconsistent season. The Bison earned its first ever Southern Division Championship by beating much-favored Navy in the semifinals.

The Eastern Championships are set with Bucknell. St. Francis, Mercyhurst, and Brown the top four seeds.

So does it mean that parity has hit the East? Maybe. And that’s good for fans. But beware of mediocrity masquerading as parity. A dominant Eastern team would be better suited for the NCAA Championship tournament than a best-among-equals champion, which is the direction Eastern’s is headed.

As dramatic and entertaining as this weekend’s outcomes were they can’t mask the East’s general lack of success against the West this year, even against second-tier competition. Here’s hoping that this ultra-competitive post season will prepare the Eastern victors for the heightened competition of NCAA Championships.

Who’s picking Mercyhurst?