Friday Rewind: UC San Diego Beats Princeton in Wild Men’s Water Polo Contest

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In a wild game at Princeton, UC San Diego goalie Jack Turner was the difference. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

PRINCETON, NJ. Last weekend’s Princeton Men’s Water Polo Invitational did not feature marquee West Coast teams, as they have in year’s past, but it had something more appealing: exciting competition. Missing were Stanford and UCLA, who the weekend before chose to pummel the competition at the Navy Invitational. Bit the Tiger were fortunate to have included UC San Diego among the 14 teams invited for 2019; ranked #9 prior to the tournament, the Tritons were an ideal opponent for the East’s top teams.

[Princeton’s Litvak Talks Tiger Water Polo on Eve of Princeton Invitational]

Denny Harper’s team is talented, determined and—despite a loss to 12-11 Harvard on Saturday night—was the most accomplished team in the water at DeNunzio Pool. The best game of the three-day invitational took place Friday night, when host Princeton broke out to an early three-goal lead and was ahead of UCSD until midway through the fourth period, when the Tritons clawed their way back en route to a dramatic and—to some participants—infuriating 11-10 win in overtime.

What made this match compelling was how it finished; there were a couple of plays that makes the case that polo is more entertaining and provocative than any other collegiate sport. After Karlo Krmek had given the Tritons a one-goal three minutes into the fourth period, Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt doubled the lead with a minute left. He drove in on Princeton goalie Billy Motherway and hammered home a score while getting punched in the nose—and then left the pool with blood streaming down his face. If ever there was an archetypal image for the sport it was Turnbow-Lindenstadt—who returned to his bench with a wad of tissue jammed in his nose.

With 39 seconds remaining, Princeton freshman Yurian Quinones cut the Triton lead to one. As UCSD players set up for  ideally their final possession, Harper—now in his 40th year in San Diego—admonished them: they had no timeouts left. After they ran the clock down to nine seconds, UCSD surprisingly dumped the ball mid-tank, which allowed Princeton to set up quickly for the equalizer.

Still, the Triton defense held, and, with one second left in the gam, Quinones set up for a desperation shot. Inexplicably, play was whistled to a stop—and an animated discussion began. As players milled around in the pool, Harper raged on the pool deck, so much so that he was red-carded and banished from the match. The reason why became quickly clear; referee Alex Stankevitch had whistled him for calling time-out when his team didn’t have the ball—an offense punishable with a five-meter penalty.

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Princeton’s Billy Motherway stands tall. Photo Courtesy: Nicole Maloney

With this reprieve, Princeton’s Keller Maloney coolly converted the penalty shot, pulling his team into a tie at nine with no time remaining. Justice was still served to the deserving Tritons; two goals in the first extra period allowed the visitors to take a lead before a Tiger score midway through the second period made it a one-goal game. With seconds remaining and the Tigers attacking, Jack Turner—UCSD’s superb goalie—stonewalled Wyatt Benson to preserve his team’s win, one of three on the weekend.

Afterwards, each of the main protagonists in this drama had something to contribute.

Jack Turner, UC San Diego goalie

– This was one of those games where you ask yourself: “Wait, did that really happen?”

Roller coaster, roller coaster. [Princeton] started off strong. They’re a good team and they jumped on us, they came out fast before we got our composure. Whenever you come out East as a West Coast team, it’s tough. These guys, they work hard out here and they play good water polo. So you know it’s going to be a battle.

– A pivotal moment in this game was in third period when you defended a two on one. You were very emotional after that save, and it seemed it sparked your teammates.

Right, we see the whole thing, we feel the momentum, we’re the ones getting scored on, we’re the one making saves. So being able to be the emotional backbone for a team is going to be huge in terms of momentum. When you’re feeling the momentum of the game, you got to get into it and keep up emotions when they’re high. And if they’re a little low, you got to start riling up the team and take some big saves, make some plays and hopefully pull out the win.

– There’s no two ways about it: that ending was bizarre.

Stuff’s going to happen. Things are not going to go your way. But the true measure of a team is how you face adversity. And Denny getting thrown out of the game for calling a time-out in the fourth quarter when we thought we had the ball or however it happened, five-meter didn’t go our way—when it came to crunch time, this team performed.

Kudos to my teammates for staying strong and believing in me to get saves and put away goals.

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UCSD’s Denny Harper with Connor Turnbow-Lindenstadt. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

***

Denny Harper, UC San Diego Head Coach

I told [Greg] Mescall before the game, anytime Princeton and UCSD play, throw the rankings out for who you have, who they have. It’s always a dog fight. They are tough to beat here at home. We didn’t get off to a good start. We knew that they would.

I’m super proud of the guys that they came back, kept their poise, not an easy situation. Am I upset about how it went into overtime? Very. I’ve been coaching this wacky sport since 1972. I would never make a mistake like that. At the same time, Alex Stankevitch is a honorable man. He thinks he saw me do that. So that’s that. It’s over. Nothing I can do about it.

***

Keller Maloney, Princeton attacker

– That was an intense, unusual and exciting game.

We did a lot of things really well. Obviously we had some slips ups here and there. Our game plan was to not let them counter. They live and die on the counter attack. Towards the end we weren’t patient enough on offense to limit their counter attack opportunities.

I love how our team battled. It’s tough. We’re a part time water polo team and they’re a full-time water polo team; anytime we can compete with them, and any school that, especially on the West Coast is a really great achievement. But that’s not where we want to end up. We’re gunning to be able to beat those types of teams.

– You took made the shot to tie.

It was definitely theatrical at the end—like a movie ending. Sometimes shots like that go your way. Sometimes they don’t. And we had a couple of things go our way that game and a couple of things that didn’t.

It comes down to those really minute details that separates one team from the other. Overall, it was a good step in the right direction. The most important thing is to get better every game and from last weekend we’ve gotten better. Obviously we’ve got a lot to work on and we got to forgive ourselves for this loss and move on to the next one.

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Princeton’s Keller Maloney. Photo Courtesy: Nicole Maloney

– You’re only a sophomore but have shown great leadership skills in the water.

Our seniors do a really awesome job setting the culture. Maybe I direct in the pool a little bit, especially on defense.

The leaders have done an unbelievable job setting the culture of this team; pretty much just walked into the culture. And it was already there and they’re really doing an awesome job building this program up from the bottom. So is Dustin [Litvak] with Cara [Borkovec] and Derek [Ellingson].

Dustin’s an unbelievable coach and he’s the one that I’d give the credit to for changing the culture on this team.