Bucknell Men’s Water Polo Head Coach John McBride on Winning the East in 2019

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Bucknell Head Coach John McBride. Photo Courtesy: Bucknell Athletics

Saturday at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool was a shining moment for the Bucknell men’s water polo program, one that will not be soon forgotten. Not only did the Bison tag an undefeated Crimson team with a 13-12 defeat — their first loss in more than a year — they also won an NCAA tournament play for the first time since 1985, the tail end of the glory days of Bucknell polo, when the team went to five national championship tournaments in a decade.

BucknellWhat was perhaps most impressive about this year’s NCAA-winning performance is that the Bison were prepared to any attack that the Crimson — seeking to become the first undefeated team in Eastern history — tried to run. This is a credit to a brilliant zone defense engineered by Bucknell Head Coach John McBride that limited Harvard All-Americans Dennis Blyachov and Austin Sechrest to a total of three goals.

[Bison Ride Roughshod Over Undefeated Harvard in NCAA Men’s Water Polo Contest]

Now in his ninth year in Lewisburg, McBride is no stranger to battles with Eastern powers Harvard, Brown, Princeton, Navy and Fordham, among others. In addition to his combined 17 seasons as Bucknell men’s and women’s head coach, where he has compiled 291 wins, the former goalie from Rhode Island also spent seven years as an assistant at Brown, helping the Bears’ men’s and women’s to noteworthy success.

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The incomparable Rade Joksimovic. Photo Courtesy: Rob Dolan

His intense focus on the match at hand, and devotion to his players is always apparent; it was clear from the first minute of Saturday’s match that not only where the Bison ready for the Crimson, in no way were they intimidated by the moment — much as McBride and his squad had been in 2016, the Bison’s last appearance in NCAAs, when they pushed host Harvard to the limit before dropping a 13-12 decision in sudden death overtime.

Coach McBride responded by email to Swimming World about beating a favored Crimson squad in their home pool, the outsized impact of Rade Joksimovic, one of the greatest players in Bucknell history, and the team unity that has resulted in the Bison’s best performance in more than three decades.

– Your team came into Saturday’s match against unbeaten Harvard as an underdog — and crafted a great plan to frustrate the Crimson. What specifically enabled your team to win?

We didn’t feel like an underdog. We believed we were the better team and felt confident that we would win. We didn’t do anything special. We just wanted to dictate the pace. Harvard plays really fast and Coach Minnis knows that when he plays us we are going to do everything we can to not let him play that way and force his team to grind defensively.

It just happened to work on Saturday.

– How important was it to you and your team to advance to an NCAA match in California, especially given the success your program has enjoyed the past four years?

It was important for the seniors. They have worked hard and have gone through a lot to get here. I don’t think they’ve really thought about it yet. I’m sure when it’s over they will reflect and enjoy it.

– What can you say about Rade Joksimovic? I’m pretty sure he didn’t leave the water at all on Saturday — and he was brilliant on both sides of the ball.

Rade is one of 18 members of a team that trains hard every day. He would be the first to tell you that his success is only because of the rest of the team.

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Celebrating a win in the 2019 MAWPC final. Photo Courtesy: Bucknell Athletics

As an athlete he is very coachable and comes to the pool trying to learn and be better everyday. As a teammate, he is a leader in and out of the pool while holding himself and his teammates to a very high level of accountability.

– Logan Schofield was pivotal in this game; for a kid who didn’t have a lot of experience playing polo in high school he put on an MVP performance on Saturday.

You won’t meet an athlete that works harder than Logan Schofield. He didn’t play his first two years but he committed himself to learning and being great. He is a year-round athlete. If you asked him what his major in college would be he’d tell you it’s being a center despite being an engineering major.

– The defending champion Trojans are your opponents on Thursday; this is a USC team that can and has been beaten. What do you see as the keys to this match for the Bison?

It’ll be fun to see Hannes [Daube, Trojan striker] and Rade defend each other. Hannes is just an amazing person and water polo player. I’m also looking forward to Schofield and [Jake] Ehrhardt getting after it in the middle of the pool. Jake is another great person and polo player and Logan and Jake have played against and with each other in the past.

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