2018 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament; Play-In Matches Saturday at Princeton & Long Beach

Princeton University men's water polo vs. Santa Clara, Princeton, NJ, September 13, 2013.
Princeton's DeNunzio pool will host an play-in game for the 2018 NCAA Men's Water Polo Tournament. Photo Courtesy: Beverly Schaefer

Tournament bids are now set and the real action begins Saturday with regional play-in matches for the 2018 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament. Princeton will host George Washington at 1 p.m. (EST) while Long Beach State will face Pomona-Pitzer at 10 p.m. (EST) in Long Beach.

ncaa-logo-50years

By virtue of a 12-10 win over Harvard in the Northeast Water Polo Conference title match, Princeton (19-10) will face George Washington (22-6), which captured the NCAA bid from the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference by beating Bucknell 12-11 in overtime. The Tigers will host the Colonials at the DeNunzio Pool at 1 p.m. (EST) in a match that will be live-streamed by ESPN3. The winner will advance to a match on Thursday, November 29 against UCLA (22-4) at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center.

Princeton has captured five straight, and its quest for an NWPC title was helped immeasurably by sophomore Casey Conrad, who scored six goals in two games last weekend in a semifinal win over St. Francis and then the final versus Harvard, earning tournament’s Most Valuable Player honors. George Washington’s Andrew Mavis tallied nine goals over last weekend’s three matches at Fordham University, but it was Atakan Destici who delivered the biggest goal of the Colonials’ season, when—with seconds remaining—he hit the game-tying shot against the Bison, pushing the match to overtime, where GW would ultimately prevail.

destici-gw-nov18

Atakan Destici. Photo Courtesy: George Washington Athletics Communications

George Washington is making its second straight appearance in NCAAs; last year Barry King’s team dropped a heart-breaking 15-13 overtime decision to Harvard in a play-in match at Harvard. Princeton has been to five NCAA tournaments; the last time was in 2015 when it lost 12-7 play-in match to host UC San Diego. One newcomer to NCAA play as a head coach is Princeton’s Dustin Litvak; not only is this his first-ever NCAA tournament match helming a team, he accomplished the feat in his first season as Tigers head coach, after spending five years as an assistant to the UCLA men’s and women’s polo programs.

The West Coast play-in match will be held at 10 p.m. (EST) at the Ken Lindgren Aquatics Center in Long Beach and will be streamed live on Big West TV. The host 49ers (13-11) come into this match riding a season-best six-match winning streak, highlighted by two wins over Pacific, including a 10-6 win in the Golden Coast Conference championship. Leading the way is Austin Stewart, who scored four times for LBS—part of a 15-goal scoring burst for the junior attacker during the 49ers’ winning streak.

stewart-lbs-nov18

Austin Stewart. Photo Courtesy: Long Beach State Athletics

Pomona-Pitzer (24-8) comes into the match—its third-straight NCAA appearance—riding a seven-game win streak, including a decisive 11-4 win over Claremont-Mudd-Scrips in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference final. All season the Sagehens have been powered by Sam Sasaki (52 goals) and Adam Ward (60 goals). Pomona-Pitzer and LBS have not met in 2018, but earlier this season Alex Rodriguez’s team upset GCC member UC Irvine 11-10 in overtime, when the Anteaters were ranked 10th in the country. The Sagehens are the only Division III team in this year’s NCAA tournament, the same as the previous two years.

The winner of the LBS vs. Pomona-Pitzer contest will meet UC San Diego (19-5), champions of the Western Water Polo Association, on Thursday, also at Stanford.