The members of the Williams water polo team came home from Wesleyan this weekend with their heads high, even if they returned with third place instead of the New England title for which they had been aiming.
After earning the second seed in the tournament with a 6-2 regular season record, Williams breezed past Coast Guard 23-1 and Amherst 21-6. The victories over these two winless teams extended Williams’ winning streak to nine games, the longest in New England this year. This streak was highlighted by a 10-0 shutout at Amherst and amazing play by goaltender and Captain Chris Rodriguez ’99 holding the opposing team scoreless in three consecutive starts.
Saturday, Williams met Yale in a rematch of a nail-biter which Williams took 11-10 with a fourth quarter comeback three weeks ago at Yale. The winner would face reigning national champion Dartmouth, a team Williams had defeated in the finals of the Yale tournament for a trip to nationals.
Leery of starting slow as they had three weeks ago en route to a 5-0 first half deficit, the Ephs came out of the gate strong but were unable to pull away from Yale. After a several missed opportunities by both sides, regulation ended with the scored tied at 8-8.
Williams forced the overtime period with some amazing last second heroics after turning the ball over with less than a minute remaining. Williams got the ball back with two seconds and promptly called a time-out. The ensuing play was a veritable team effort, as captain Jon Francis ’99 threw a three-quarter-pool hail-mary pass towards the rest of the team, amassed in front of the Yale goal. Geoff Allen ’01 was able to tip the ball toward the net, and Ian Roche ’00 punched it in amidst many flailing limbs.
This led to an extended discussion on the part of the referees and a sudden death overtime period. Allen won the sprint, but Williams was unable to convert. With the defense sloughing in order to prevent the dominant Yale hole set from beating them, Yale put away an outside shot to win the game. “Everyone seemed to have a hand on that ball,” said Francis.
Although the Williams players took the loss hard, they were not done for the weekend. “Williams Water Polo prides itself on never letting up, no matter what the circumstances,” said Francis. “We demonstrated that this season and, in particular, this weekend.”
The next morning Williams faced an energized Wesleyan team in the consolation game, playing in front of a large home crowd on Homecoming Weekend.
Williams consistently drew ejections, but was unable to convert either on the resultant six-on-fives. Just the same, frequent steals did not translate into counterattack goals. However, the Ephs stayed ahead with two goals each from Allen and Alex Poole ’00, who continued to beat defenders on the drive.
The fourth quarter began with the Ephs up 5-4, but Wesleyan soon tied it. With two minutes remaining, Williams drew an ejection and Captain Dave Walfish ’00 put away what would prove to be the winning goal.
“I’m not sure I would say winning today meant salvaging our season,” said Walfish. “Win or lose today, I thought we showed a lot of heart this weekend. Winning today impressed me. It’s tough to come back from a semi-final loss and play well the next day.”
Walfish’s teammates echoed his words, saying winning third place, however bittersweet a consolation prize, is a source of pride in the team. “This weekend proved, if nothing else, that we didn’t let all our hard work go for naught,” said bench captain and backup goalie Pat Burton ’00.
The team decided not to hold a home match against Tufts this Saturday, but many players are already looking forward to next season. “We showed a lot of heart and showed that we have a lot of young talent,” said Walfish. “It bodes well for next year.”