NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament Results: Harvard, Pacific Advance

Pacific men's water polo players Luke Pavillard and Kale Ai. Photo Courtesy Pacific Athletics

By Michael Randazzo, Swimming World Contributor

This weekend the 2017 Men’s Water Polo Tournament kicked off with a pair play-in games on opposite coasts.


Photo Courtesy:

On Saturday the University of Pacific pummeled hapless Pomona-Pitzer 16-2 in Stockton, CA, while in Cambridge, CA, Harvard punch a ticket to a second consecutive California trip with a thrilling 15-13 OT win over NCAA novice George Washington.

Pacific 16 – Pomona-Pitzer 2

The pairing of these two California schools—one of six that qualified for NCAAs—was a topic of discussion. #5 Pacific is nationally higher ranked than #8 University of California Davis, which opened up questions as to why the Tigers, and not the Aggies, were forced to play an extra game against #17 Pomona-Pitzer.

“Eligibility and availability of student-athletes for NCAA championships” is one criteria for NCAA selection. According to Brown Head Coach Felix Mercado, President of the Association of Collegiate Water Polo Coaches who has previously served on the section committee, cost trumped competition. The Sagehens could travel by bus to Stockton to face the Tigers; they would have to travel by plane for a match against the Aggies.

The real loser in this situation was Pomona-Pitzer, which had a reasonable chance to advance facing UC-Davis but—as the results showed—virtually no shot against Pacific. The nation’s top offensive team based upon Algorithm for Rate-Referenced Iterative Analysis of Game Activity (ARRIGA) metrics, the Tigers captured the Golden Coast Conference first-ever NCAA men’s automatic qualifier.


Photo Courtesy: Pacific Athletics

Leading the onslaught for Head Coach James Graham’s team was Luke Pavillard, with three goals, four assists and five steals—among 18 thefts by the Tigers. The GCC Player of the Year had plenty of help; Engin Ege Colak and Luis Araya both chipped in with hat tricks for the Tigers,  now 2-0 all-time against the Sagehens, have never lost to a member of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (27-0), whose automatic bid has been captured by Pomona-Pitzer the past two years .

Head Coach Alex Rodriguez’s team held the home team at bay for much of the first half, as senior goalie Daniel Diemer (11 saves) kept his team in the game. But a 5-1 deficit quickly ballooned to double digits after intermission, as the Tiger rang up 11 goals, snapping a Sagehorn seven-match winning streak and pushing the visitors into an early exit from NCAAs.

Pacific will next play UC-Davis on Thursday, November 30 at 5 p.m. (PST) at USC’s Uytengsu Aquatics Center.

Harvard 15 – George Washington 13

#17 George Washington and #12 Harvard went out it for the first 16 minutes of their NCAA play-in match like two heavyweight boxers looking for a quick knockout. The two teams combined for 17 goals in a first half that saw the host Crimson leading 9-8 at intermission

The third period saw Harvard extend its lead to two, but the underdog Colonials—led by Atakan Destici’s four goals—mounted a comeback and more. They scored four straight goals to take a 13-11 lead with five minutes left in the fourth period. Head Coach Barry King then elected to sit on his lead, which cost his team dearly. With three minutes to go, Dennis Blyashov trimmed the George Washington lead to one with his fourth goal of the match. Then, with the Colonials running off clock, a steal by Jackson Enright led to his 3-meter goal with 43 seconds, lifting the Crimson into a 13-all deadlock.


Dennis Blyashov. Photo Courtesy: Harvard Athletics

Host Harvard immediately pressed the attack in overtime, with Blyashov hammering home what turned out to be the game-winner just seconds into extra time. Colin Chiapello closed out the scoring with a strike in front of the cage, ending a threat from the neophyte Colonials.

In comments on the GW Athletics website, the George Washington coach praised his team in their first-ever post-season trip.

“You can’t be anything but pleased with what the guys gave us today,” said King, who guided the history-making effort in his first season in charge. “They completely emptied their tanks and played with a pride that I don’t know has been seen here before.”

Next up for the Head Coach Ted Minnis’s team is a rematch with #1 USC at 7 p.m. (PST). The Trojans are the tournament’s third seed despite winning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament and the MPSF’s automatic berth.

Last year, Harvard was routed 19-4 by USC in an NCAA semifinal match, propelling the Trojans to a 12th straight national championship final. The University of California beat USC 11-8 in overtime , earning Head Coach Kirk Everist’s program a record 14th NCAA title.

The winners of Thursday’s matches will advance to the Final Four on Saturday; the Pacific/UC-Davis winner will face top seed UCLA, while the USC/Harvard winner will face #2 seed Cal.



  1. avatar
    Kyle P

    The pacific polo player on the left is Kale Ai of Kamehameha School, Hawaii…

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo


      Thank you for pointing this out! Getting pictures is sometimes the hardest part of my job—and they are often the best part of the story.

      Your correspondent

  2. Gerald Macedo

    Distance between UC Davis and UOP is 58 miles, or one additional hour by bus!

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo


      Thanks for your comment. I am just reporting what I was told; it struck me as unusual to have a higher seed play an additional match BUT the Tigers: A) Had no choice; this is the NCAA selection committee (think about how much discussion there is for seeding / regions for the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament); B) Must have realized that a match against Pomona-Pitzer would not threaten their path to the Final Four (and, having beatien the Aggies the last 10 meetings, are probably not afraid to face UC-Davis in L.A.).

      Having said this, could it be that the GCC—as new kid on the block—is getting “jostled” by the NCAA? Perhaps, and therefore it’s good to highlight.

      BTW, what do you think USC makes of the seeding. They win the MPSF Tournament, are hosting NCAAs and they get THIRD, while UCLA gets FIRST. How do you think THAT will play with the men of Troy?!

      Your correspondent

  3. Larry Countryman

    If worried about cost, why does the NCAA fly eastern college teams thousands of miles to play in the western region of the basketball tournament? Princeton, West Virginia, Bucknell and Maryland all played their 2017 first round games in San Jose.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Hi Larry:

      Wow, you hit the proverbial nail on the head! It does seem odd that a multi-billion entity is pinching pennies here, especially in regard to competition (which is why I was fortunate to have an inside perspective provided by Coach Mercado). In defense of the NCAA – who frankly are an easy target! – varsity water polo consist of perhaps 110 women’s & men’s programs and their biggest TV package is with the Pac-12 Network (which is fantastic – if you live in CA); not the behemoth that NCAA men’s BB or football is.

      BUT, you’d like to think the NCAA folks might think twice about a situation like this in the future. If Pacific earned the higher seed (which they clearly did) then shouldn’t they earn the benefit that a bye accords them? Plus, I would watch a Pmona-Pitzer vs. UC-Davis match b/c it’s gonna be competitive. Not so with Pacific playing the Sagehens…

      Your correspondent

  4. Jack Gullery

    Congratulations – Go USC!

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo


      Clearly you favor the hometown Trojans! And, with the country’s best goalie (until proven otherwise) they should be favored to win a 10th men’s title for Coach Jovan Vavic. Or, should they? I’m surprised they lost twice to UCLA – though clearly, the third time WAS the charm for USC.

      BUT, if I had a horse in this race (which I don’t) I would fear Luca Cupido and the Golden Bears (clearly, the Cardinal learned THAT lesson…).

      Your correspondent

Author: Michael Randazzo

Michael Randazzo is a freelance contributor at Swimming World focusing on water polo. He covers polo all over the United States for SW and other publications, including the Collegiate Water Polo Association, Skip Shot, The New York Times, Total Water Polo, Water Polo Planet and others. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two children and roots for St. Francis Brooklyn polo.

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