In the Heart of Trump Country, A Trio of Foreigners Power Bucknell Men’s Water Polo to Success

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Bucknell's Rade Joksimovic (with ball) is the most dynamic offensive talent in the East. Photo Courtesy: CWPA

In Union County, Pennsylvania, more than 60% of the votes in the 2016 presidential election went for Donald J. Trump. An elite liberal arts institution, Bucknell University is in Lewisburg — dead center of the county’s unexpected groundswell of support for a politician whose signature issue was immigration reform.

BucknellA dichotomy between town and gown is not uncommon, especially if you factor in that Bucknell draws students from all over the world. This includes three foreign athletes upon whose shoulders the fate of the school’s men’s water polo program rests. Rade Joksimovic — one of the greatest players to ever don the Bison navy and orange — hails from Serbia; Andu Vlasceanu is a top prospect for the Romanian national team. Goalie Adrien Touzot currently hails from Beirut in Lebanon, though he spent his formative years playing polo in Greenwich, Connecticut. All will be key participants in a NCAA play-in match against undefeated Harvard to be contested on Saturday in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

[Pacific, Not UCLA, in as At-Large Team for 2019 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament]

Team effort equals Bison success

There have been numerous contributors to Bucknell’s (22-8) success this season, accomplishments which includes a title in the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference’s regular season as well as a finals win last Sunday in the 2019 MAWPC championships. Senior Logan Schofield, in his final season in Lewisburg, has delivered 60 goals and been playing inspired ball of late; he was a catalyst for three wins last weekend in the Kinney Natatorium, as the Bison advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2016. Jared Stanley, with 44 goals and 14 assists, has provided reliable offense for Bucknell Head Coach John McBride.

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Bucknell’s Andu Vlasceanu. Photo Courtesy: Bucknell Athletics

Others may contribute but Joksimovic and Vlasceanu drive the offense. Rade — a one-name star — is a superb striker from Novi Sade who has scored 131 goals so far this season, extending his career total to an incredible 519, good for second all-time in the Bison record books behind Scott Schulte’s 586. A recipient of the conference’s player of the year award for the fourth-straight year, Rade has a variety of moves with which to score from almost anywhere in the pool. There’s his blasts from outside five meters, which are launched so quickly and effortlessly that the ball is difficult to track out of his hand. He also has a tantalizing lob shot which he uses to freeze the opposing goalie, who is then powerless to prevent the ball from tucking comfortably just under the crossbar.

Vlasceanu, a prized freshman from Bucharest, Romania’s capital city, has adroitly slipped into the wing slot opposite Joksimovic. This spot was vacated after Marko Djordjevic, a brilliant striker from Serbia who scored 168 goals with 138 assists, graduated last spring. A member of the 2018 Romanian National Team that placed ninth at the Men’s European Junior U19 Tournament, Vlasceanu’s role has been to compliment his superstar teammate. He has been superb this season, pouring in 65 goals while compiling 37 helpers, both good for second on the team. His ability to create offensively draws opposing defenses off of Joksimovic, and may create favorable match-ups against the Crimson.

Of the three, Touzot is the least heralded but may be most critical to his team’s chances against an unbeaten (29-0) Harvard team — champions of the Northeast Water Polo Conference. After moving to Lebanon from Greenwich three years ago at the age of 16, the 6-6 polo and basketball player has been a force in promoting the sport in his adopted country, founding the All Ages Water Polo Club in his new city while also spending time in 2017 as an assistant coach at the American University of Beirut Club Team.

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Bucknell’s Adrian Touzot. Photo Courtesy: Bucknell Athletics

The Crimson are known for their counter attack abilities, often sending a player off on the break during another team’s offensive possession. Touzot and the Bucknell defense kept conference opponents to just under seven goals against at last weekend’s championships, and are one of only two teams this season to limit the high-powered Harvard offense to single-digits in goals scored. That was in a 9-8 loss last month, when the Bison broke out to a three-goal first period lead but could not hold off a Harvard comeback capped by Bruno Snow’s game winner with less than four minutes remaining.

The other opponent was Princeton, who last weekend was leading the Crimson 7-6 early in the fourth period of the 2019 NWPC championship final before Head Coach Ted Minnis’ squad rallied behind fourth-quarter goals from Alex Tsotadze. Bucknell’s  McBride is sure to be pouring over the aggressive strategy that the Tigers employed to keep Crimson top scorer Dennis Blyashov (no goals, three exclusions) in check. It will likely include press defense executed by both Rade, a talented but sometimes indifferent defender, and Vlasceanu, whose long arms and 6-2 height will be employed to disrupt a focal point of the Harvard offense.

[Twenty-seven and 0? Wow! But Harvard Men’s Water Polo Has More to Prove]

Mostly thought it will be up to Touzot to repel attacks from a long list of talented offensive players, including Charlie Owens, 2019 NWPC Player of the Year, Austin Sechrest, 2018 NWPC Player of the Year, Jackson Enright and freshmen Kaleb Archer, who has proven to be a reliable back-up to Owens.

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Harvard’s Dennis Blyashov. Photo Courtesy: Harvard Athletics

America IS a nation of immigrants

Given their nationality — all the Harvard players are native-born Americans — President Trump is more likely to be disposed to favor the Crimson if he is so disposed to pick favorites. He’s also known to prefer winners; the Crimson have beat all opponents this season in arguably the most impressive polo campaign in Eastern history, However, the immigrant histories of many Harvard players are not hard to discern. Tsotadze’s father Vasiko played professionally in the Republic of Georgia. Sasha Bucur, father of Harvard freshman Alexandru Bucur —named 2019 NWPC Newcomer of the Tournament — is from Romania, while Blyashov’s family originally hails from Russia.

Our notoriously fickle president —  a graduate of Ivy rival University of Pennsylvania — my not be disposed to follow a somewhat obscure sport that depends upon European clubs — and players —for its popularity. If he were, he’d be wise to acknowledge how Bucknell’s trio of superb foreign-nationals have made for a fantastic season in the heart of one of his  political strongholds.

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s williams
2 years ago

Uh, Adrien Touzot was born in Greenwich CT and spent the first 16 years of his life in Connecticut. Can’t get less foreign than that.

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Anonymous
2 years ago

What difference does it really make , foreign born or not, foreign or not?
Isn’t it about sports?
Why are we even talking about immigration while we should be focusing on how amazing these athletes are?

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john miller
2 years ago

Someone who is a citizen of the U.S. and lived most of his life in the U.S. is NOT a “foreign athlete” just because he happens to temporarily be living in another country.

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David A. Levinson
2 years ago

You are wrong. Trump has never been opposed to immigration; he is opposed to illegal aliens. One thing has nothing to do with the other and it is dishonest of you to attempt to blur the clear distinction.

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john miller
2 years ago

I agree your comments are seriously dishonest. Trump’s comments about allowing legal immigrants were not limited to countries like Norway. You should keep your political views out of sports articles – especially when you are ill-informed.

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2 years ago
Reply to  john miller

I agree with Michael, John: his mentions of the subject in this discussion are reasonable and relevant – and not much more than passing. I didn’t read any political view from the correspondent. He did broaden his thought beyond “ball passed to player x before player y scored”… and as Editor, I’m very glad he did so. Sport belongs to the wider world and that wider world is relevant to sport. You may not like the observations made but that should be no impediment to Michael noting those observations and any others pertaining to the wider context of what he’s writing on. Ed

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Anonymous
2 years ago

I am a father of a Bucknell alumni student who does not understand how you can link the Bucknell University to the area where the people vote for Trump. My family was never given the impression that Bucknell University ever backed Trump at all.