Johns Hopkins Wins DIII Eastern Championship; Will Join MIT in First-Ever DIII Collegiate Championship

nicoIvanov-jhu-oct19
Johns Hopkin's Nico Ivanov winding up against MIT's Sawyer Ketters. Photo Courtesy: CWPA

With wins Saturday, Johns Hopkins and MIT secured spots in the first-ever Division III Men’s Water Polo Collegiate Championship, to be held in December. Competing in the 2019 Collegiate Water Polo Association DIII Eastern Championship, the Blue Jays knocked off Austin College and Connecticut College, while the Engineers got past host Washington & Jefferson and Penn St. Berhend.

diii-men-easterns-oct19Both advanced to Sunday’s final, where it was all JHU. In his first year as Hopkins coach, Max Schlegel guided his team to a 16-12 win over MIT, the defending champs, to capture the program’s 18th DIII Eastern title.

Held at Chartiers Valley High School, outside of Pittsburgh, this year’s tournament of six teams included an added incentive; spots for the two finalists in the new Collegiate Championship. The Eastern teams will be half of a Final Four that will also include the top two finishers in the 2019 Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) tournament at the end of November.

Pathway to a title for teams from both coasts

The new championship is to be hosted by the highest seeded team from the SCIAC on December 7 and 8. The format—developed by the SCIAC, the CWPA and USA Water Polo—is meant to help grow intercollegiate polo by offering a pathway to hardware for DIII programs mostly shut out of the national championship picture. Since 2014, the SCIAC, exclusively a DIII conference, has sent a team an NCAA play-in game.

hopkins-diii-final-oct19

Hopkins wins it’s first DIII title under it’s new coach. Photo Courtesy: CWPA

That’s never happened for the Engineers or the Blue Jays. The closest either of those teams came to qualifying for NCAAs was in 2015, when Hopkins dropped a one-goal decision to Princeton in the CWPA Eastern final. A win would have made Hopkins the first DIII squad from the East to qualify for the national championship.

Since then, both programs have experienced significant change. MIT (9-9; 1-4 NWPC) is on its third coach in three years; Austin Ringheim inherited a talented and experienced group that has nine wins already—one away from the team’s total in 2018. Two of those wins came on Saturday, when Miller Geschke and Clyde Huibregtse each tallied seven goals in beating both the host Presidents and the Camels.

[On The Record with Austin Ringheim, MIT Water Polo New Head Coach]

A tale of two coaches—and two halves of a season

Hopkins (9-16; 2-6 MAWPC) has experienced expected turbulence in the transition from Ted Bresnahan who retired last December to Schlegel. Bresnahan spent almost three decades leading the Blue Jays to double-digits in DIII titles. The new Hopkins coach is no stranger; for the previous two seasons, Schlegel, an Annapolis native, has been the Blue Jays’ assistant coach. Last season when Bresnahan was ill, it was his assistant who ran the team.

[Ted Bresnahan, Hopkins Water Polo Coach, Steps Down after 27 Years]

This season, the Blue Jays opened with significant injuries as well as an inexperienced goalie. These challenges took their toll, as Hopkins lost 10 of its first 13, surrendering an average of 16 goals a game. Since then, goalie Max Fleming, in his first year manning the position, has improved, shaving two goals off of his average game totals. More importantly, Emerson Sullivan, who as a freshman last year led the team with 45 goals, returned from injury on October 4. Since then, JHU has won five of their 11 matches, including all three this past weekend.

ringheim-rodriguez-oct19

MIT’s Austin Ringheim and Pomona-Pitzer’s Alex Rodriguez. Photo Courtesy: M. Randazzo

They dominated Austin to the tune of 23-11, and outscored Connecticut College by the score of 20-14. Combined, Sullivan had eight goals in the two games, as did teammate Finn Banks, who leads all JHU players in points with 116 on 61 goals and 55 assists.

In the DIII Eastern final, Hopkins dumped 11 goals on MIT in the second and third periods, turning a one goal deficit into four goal lead. Fleming registered seven saves, and his team avenged a 15-12 defeat to the Engineers in last year’s title match. More importantly, the win catapults them to the top of the East’s DIII pile, and marks the Blue Jays as a real contender for the first-ever national DIII title.

A new tournament takes shape

The format to a true national DIII champion has taken some twists and turns, but is now—apparently—set. Hopkins and MIT will represent the East and be re-seeded; the Blue Jays won and so will be ahead of the Engineers. The twist for these two programs is that they both play against DI teams in conferences that have automatic berths to NCAAs. If either of these teams found a way to win their respective playoffs, they would be eligible to take the NCAA berth. Historic significance aside, neither team would be competitive in national championship play.

SCIACIt’s almost certain that the two SCIAC teams will be higher seeds—though the tournament that determines their participation will include the conference’s top four squads. Pomona-Pitzer is currently ranked 19th in the country; Whittier, currently leading the SCIAC standings, is unranked in the latest CWPA varsity poll, but did receive votes. Key to the SCIAC’s role is that the conference has forsaken their NCAA berth for this new championship. It’s a noble gesture; now Hopkins and MIT will greatly benefit from this ambitious venture no matter who they face.

1 comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.