CAMBRIDGE, MA. Hat tricks by Sean Duncan and Michael Swart powered Princeton to an 11-9 overtime win Saturday against Brown and advanced the top seeded Tigers to the 2017 Northeast Water Polo Conference (NWPC) championship match. Earlier in the day, host Harvard roared back from a two-goal halftime deficit with four unanswered goals to knocked off #2 seed St. Francis Brooklyn 9-7 and join the Tigers in Sunday’s title tilt. The NWPC final will be broadcast on the Ivy League Network.
“I’ve been doing this 20 years, and over the course of time you hope things equal out,” Nicolao said after the match. “Last year we lost six 1-goal games. This year we won those games. I look at this in the hour glass and think that maybe this is our year.”
Minnis, who during his eight years at Harvard has seen his team transformed from also-rans to perennial NCAA contenders, acknowledged that when Ivies face each other the result for East Coast water polo is exciting.
“Whomever comes, it’s a rivalry game,” he said. “That’s what this is all about. Brown, Princeton, Harvard; it’s a big rivalry in water polo. It’s going to be a battle and hopefully we can take care of business.”
On the season, the Tigers and Crimson split their two previous matches, with each team winning at home. Last year, Harvard upset host Princeton 14-13 in a NWPC semifinal, igniting a run to the 2016 NCAA Final Four.
Princeton 11, Brown 9, OT
After Duncan scored a goal from two-meters on Princeton’s first possession, it appeared that—with two previous one-goal wins this season—the favored Tigers might steamroll the Bears. But Tommy Bush, who scored four goals before fouling out late in the match, converted with Brown on the man-up to tie the game at one-all. After Swart notched his first goal of the match, Armen Deirmenjian answered at the three-minute mark. Casey Conrad put Princeton up 3-2 with a power-play goal with a minute left in the period.
The scoring in the second half was back and forth, with Bush, Princeton’s Matt Payne and Brown’s Travis Bouscaren trading goals. After Jordan Colina again put the Tigers up by one at the 1:24 mark, Bouscaren muscled past a defender in front of the Princeton cage for a goal from three-meters with seven seconds remaining to tie the match at 5-all.
Colina, Duncan and Swart scores—offset by a Rico Burke goal—gave Princeton a two-goal advantage heading into the fourth period, which is when Brown mounted its comeback. Tyler Kirchberg got on the scoring sheet with a power-play goal at 6:18 to cut his team’s deficit to one, then Bush converted with the man advantage to tie the match at eight. After Ryan Wilson gave Princeton a one-goal lead with less than a minute remaining, Hudson Rawlings delivered a fantastic backhander past Tiger goalie Vojslav Mitrovic to send the game into overtime.
Swart and Duncan put to rest any Bear upset hopes with goals in each extra frame to ice the win for the Tigers and give their team a chance to play for its second NCAA Men’s Tournament berth in three years and sixth in program history.
Harvard 9, St. Francis 7
Harvard—after never appearing in the postseason in the program’s first 35 years of existence—now has a shot at back-to-back NCAA appearances. The Crimson struck in the game’s first minute when Charlie Owens swept a rebound past Terrier goalie Finn Doerries, After Boris Posavec tied the score on a long shot, Bruno Snow beat Dorries on a long skip shot to again give the home team a lead. Nikita Prokhin tied that match at two and Bogdan Kostic, playing despite injury, but the Terriers ahead 3-2 with blast from six-meters.
But the Terrier defense again broke down in front of its net, allowing Owen to slip behind for a rebound sweep and a last second goal that tied the match at three after one period.
Harvard’s Austin Sechrest gave his team the lead one minute in by converting with the man advantage, but Will Lapkin answered immediately for St. Francis. Dennis Blyashov again put the Crimson ahead, but goals by Tucker Angelo, Kostic and Lapkin gave the visiting Terriers a 7-5 lead at intermission.
As has become a distressing pattern late in the season, St. Francis simply could not hold a lead. On Harvard’s first possession of the second half, Owen completed his hat trick, again scoring on a rebound. And when Blyashov converted a five-meter penalty shot three minutes in, the Crimson pulled into a 7-7 tie with their guests.
St. Francis Head Coach Bora Dimitorv said that injuries to Kostic and leading scorer Botond Kadar contributed to his team’s collapse in the second half.
“This loss, which was brutal to us because we were up at halftime… we just ran out of gas,” he said. “We needed one or two more of those guys who are healthy to help us in those moments where we need someone who can score.”
Two minutes into the fourth period, Jackson Enright gave Harvard a lead it would not relinquish, rattling home a shot past Doerries. Thirty seconds later Blyashov completed the scoring and his hat trick, hitting from long distance to put St. Francis into a two-goal whole. That was all the room that goalie Anthony Ridgley and the Crimson defense needed, as they shut out the visitors in the second half to set up an all-Ivy championship match-up in only the second NWPC championship since the conference was created in 2016.