First-Ever DIII Collegiate National Men’s Water Polo Championship Opens Saturday at Whittier

Whittier defeats MIT in the first semi-final of the Men's Division III National Championship held at the Lillian Slade Aquatics Center on the campus of Whittier College.
Austin Ringheim — who played for Whittier in 2014-15 — and the MIT men's squad are at the Poet's Pool looking for a DIII title. Photo Courtesy: Tony Leon

WHITTIER, CA. It’s not Stockton and it’s not NCAAs, but the first-ever DIII Collegiate National Water Polo Championship offers something decidedly different and — for its target audience — higher level competition for a sport eager to embrace a spurt in growth. Located on the campus of Wittier College, 20 miles from downtown LA, the home of Poets water polo offers a perfect backdrop for the inaugural event of what’s hoped to be a high-profile conclusion to the Division III men’s season.

USA Water Polo logo DIII National Championship

“The hope from USA Water Polo as well as the coaches at SCIAC and other Division III schools is that is a platform to get us more relevancy,” said David Kasa, Whittier head men’s and women water polo coach who along with his assistants was named 2019 SCIAC Coaching Staff of the Year.

“Having a championship, having something to play for grows the sport,” he added. “Hopefully other institutions are looking at polo as something that they might add.”

[USA Water Polo Division III National Championship Set to Begin in 2019-20]

The brainchild of USA Water Polo, the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) and the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA), the idea for a DIII specific tournament in polo harks indirectly back to a time two decades ago, when Dan Sharadin, the long-time commissioner of the CWPA, was barnstorming the country, looking to build an alliance of small and mid-sized colleges which would embrace the sport. That it this current effort includes the active participation of John Abdou, USAWP Chief High Performance Officer and Jen Dubow, commissioner of the SCIAC suggests that now was the best possible time to activate a tournament that reflects a marker of where growth in American polo is most pronounced.

Four teams, one goal: win some hardware

Play starts at 4:30 p.m. (PST) between the Final Four participants — Whittier and Claremont-Mudd-Scrips from the SCIAC, Johns Hopkins of the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference and MIT of the Northeast Water Polo Conference. The top-seeded host Poets will face #4 MIT in the Lillian Slade Aquatic Center pool, followed at 6:30 p.m. by a match between second-seed Johns Hopkins and #3 CMS. Following is a brief breakdown of the four combatants for the DIII title, which will be decided at 12:30 p.m. (PST)

Whittier Poets logo

#1 Whitter (19-12; 13-1 SCIAC) suffered only one loss all season to a DIII opponent, when SCIAC rival CMS beat the Poets 10-9 on November 6. Otherwise, Whittier has had its way with DIII teams, including Johns Hopkins, who dropped a 13-10 decision to the Poets on October 5 at the Gary Troyer Tournament in Claremont, California. Led by SCIAC 2019 Player of the Year Dominick Nevarez (63 goals), Kasa’s team boast impressive depth, with an international roster populated by players from Brazil, France, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey and Zimbabwe. The Poets are not just one player, though Nevarez, a transfer from DI Cal Baptist, had a cathartic effect on Kasa’s roster. Micah Kamai, a bruising center who transferred in from Golden West Community College, has been a standout performer for Whittier. Murat Ersoz (First Team All-SCIAC) has played big minutes in the Poets’ cage, but he was spelled in the second half of the SCIAC title match by Dylan Woodhouse.

Johns Hopkins Logo

#2 Johns Hopkins (11-21; 3-9 MAWPC) has had an interesting journey in Max Schlegel’s first season as head coach. A very competitive schedule included matches against MPSF stalwarts Stanford and UCLA as well as East coast powers Princeton, Harvard and St. Francis Brooklyn — in addition to conference play against Bucknell, the East’s top team, and George Washington. Against DIII opponents the Blue Jays are 6-3, including a 16-12 victory over MIT in the final of the DIII Eastern Championship, which made them to top-seeded team from the East. Led by Finn Banks (67 goals, 66 assists, 133 points; MAWPC-East All-Conference Second Team) and Jayden Kunwar (team-high 84 goals), the Hopkins’ player to watch is Emerson Sullivan (29 goals in 15 games). The sophomore from the Bay area was injured for the first half of the season, but established a program record for goals in a game when he torched Wagner for 12 scores in a 23-22 Blue Jays win.

[Five Questions for Max Schlegel, Johns Hopkins Men’s Water Polo Coach]

Claremont Mudd Scripps Stags Logo

#3 CMS (17-11; 11-3 SCIAC) in 2019 the Stags were 12-6 against DIII foes, and they dealt Whitter its only DIII loss of the season. Saturday’s game against Hopkins is a rematch of a 9-8 loss to the Blue Jays in the Gary Troyer Tournament; in that match, the Stags were led by Will Clark and Zack Rossman with two goals apiece. For the season, CMS got First Team All-SCIAC performances from Rossman (goals) Graham Asalone (34 goals, 28 assists) and Ethan Lewis (49 goals). Clark (44 goals, 55 assists; team-high 95 points) was selected for the All-SCIAC Second Team. Against Pomona-Pitzer the Stags were 2-1 this season, eliminating the reigning SCIAC champs in a semifinal match-up before dropping a one-goal decision to Whitter in the SCIAC final.

[Ringheim and Koetters of MIT Talk Engineer Water Polo]

MIT Logo

#4 MIT (11-14; 2-8 NWPC) in DIII matches the Engineers were 6-2; their only losses coming to Pomona-Pitzer and Hopkins. Led by Miller Geschke (77 goals, 29 assists; NWPC All-Conference Second Team), Clyde Huibregtse (50 goals; NWPC All-Conference Second Team) and Kevin Downey (32 goals, 21 assists), what may be key to MIT’s chances is the play of goalie Hayden Niederreite (196 saves). The senior will be called on to anchor an Engineer defense that will have its hand full against an explosive Whittier attack. First year MIT Head Coach Austin Ringheim is very familiar with the conditions at the Slade Aquatic Center; he was star performer for the Poets in 2014, when Whitter won the SCIAC and advanced to its first NCAA tournament, and again in 2015, when he captained the team to 2015 conference final.

Whittier College will be providing a live stream of all games.

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