Bucknell Snaps Host Harvard’s 29-Match Win Streak, Advances to NCAA Men’s Water Polo Quarterfinal Against USC

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Bucknell celebrates in front of its fans after beating host Harvard in an NCAA play-in match. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

CAMBRIDGE, MA. Behind an inspired performance from freshman goalie Adrien Touzot and an offensive explosion by senior Rade Joksimovic, Bucknell, the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference (MAWPC) champions, came to Blodgett Pool and shocked host Harvard 13-12 in an NCAA play-in game, ending the Crimson’s 29-match win streak. Joksimovic scored six first half goals while Logan Schofield, a significant contributor as the Bison swept to a MAWPC title for the first time since 2016, scored three goals and drew a pair of five-meter penalties.

2019-NCAAHarvard suffered a loss for the first time since a heartbreaking defeat more than a year ago against Ivy rival Princeton in their conference final, a loss they had avenged just last week at the Northeast Water Polo Conference tournament.

Following the win, Bucknell Head Coach John McBride, was characteristically brief.

“It was a great game, we’re excited to go to California, the guys played well,” he said, adding that his team played great team defense before leaving to join a celebration with his players of the biggest win since arriving in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania eight years ago.

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Meighan Dolan showing her Bucknell pride. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

Left to explain what is surely the most disappointing loss of his decade-long tenure was Harvard Head Coach Ted Minnis.

“I don’t want to sell short a great Bucknell team,” said a subdued Minnis, carefully choosing his words. “But, I don’t want to sell short my team that went 29-0 and won a conference championship — and that’s our goal, to win the Northeast Water Polo Conference.”

Until Saturday the Crimson were wildly successful in all their goals this season, mowing down every opponent in one of the greatest season ever recorded by a team from the East. Their program-best winning streak included a 9-8 win over Bucknell  on October 20, when they rallied from an early three-goal deficit to beat the Bison.

[Bears, Crimson Perfect at Harvard Invitational but Sage Hens of Pomona-Pitzer are Big Winners]

Harvard never got that far behind in the biggest game of the season for both teams, but a pivotal second period run by the visitors proved fatal to the Crimson’s hopes to advance to a quarterfinal match-up with defending NCAA champion USC next Thursday at 7 p.m. (EST) in California. Instead the Trojans draw Bucknell, who won an NCAA match for the first time since 1985 when they beat Loyola 8-5 at the old Belmont Plaza Pool in Long Beach, California.

For the Bison, Cooper Dolan, Cullen Jacuzzi, Jared Stanley and Andu Vlasceanu scored once apiece. In his final game wearing his school’s crimson and white, Harvard’s Charlie Owens was superb. The senior co-captain scored three first period goals and was a constant threat in front of the Bison cage. Kaleb Archer and Dennis Blyachov scored twice for the Crimson, while Jackson Enright, Austin Sechrest, Bennie Seybold, Michael Sonsini and Alex Tsotadze scored lone goals.

[Winning is Contagious: Ted Minnis and Charlie Owens of Harvard Men’s Water Polo]

After an offensive explosion in the first period saw Harvard go up 6-5, the second period proved pivotal. Down 9-8 late in the second, the Bison scored three straight, with two goals by Joksimovic sandwiched around a score by Schofield to take a 11-9 lead into intermission. In the second half Harvard twice cut the lead to a single score, but with the home team on the attack late in the match, Touzot came up big to deny the Crimson the win they so desperately wanted.

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A remnant from one of the greatest runs in Eastern history.

Instead it will be Bucknell that will make the journey to University of Pacific’s Chris Kjeldsen Pool to face a Trojan squad that struggled early this season, enjoyed a strong run during Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play, then had to sweat out the NCAA selection committee for an at-large berth that made it 15 straight NCAA appearances. What’s most remarkable about that record is that in the previous 14 seasons USC has advanced to the national championship final, winning eight times, including a 14-12 victory over Stanford in the 2018 final.

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

With the shock of the loss not yet worn off, Minnis — as gracious a coach as there is in the sport — was philosophical about a season of success that would never have been imagined when he arrived in Cambridge ten years ago.

“It’s great kids, a great staff, a great university,” he said. “All those things play together and I’m very lucky that the kids in our program have decided to come play for me and take a chance on a kid from Menlo Park, California.”

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