This weekend’s seeding tournament at Dartmouth was a study in extremes for the Williams water polo club.
The team finished the weekend 4-0, putting the club in the driver’s seat for the valuable top seed in the New England Division tournament, which will take place at Chandler Pool October 23-24. But before going home for the weekend, the team received warning not to fall asleep at the wheel.
“We’re a much deeper team,” said co-captain Tom Pickard ’01, making a comparison to last year’s third-place in New England squad. “Our freshmen have really surprised us with their high level of play.”
The team began its regular season with a nonchalant 19-6 running through of Amherst, the only other team of the five present without a hired coach, on Saturday morning. Dickie Lammert ’03, in his Williams debut, came out firing and led the charge with seven goals on outside shots and drives.
The keynote game of the tournament took place later that day, as Williams met hated host Dartmouth for the second straight year on Saturday night. This year, as last, the Green Team was heavily favored. Defending New England champion Dartmouth came into the game as the third-ranked club team in the country.
The Ephs never trailed, although Dartmouth knotted it up at 2-2, 3-3, 4-4 and 9-9. Williams went on to win 14-11.
Lammert put 19th-ranked Williams ahead 1-0 four seconds into a 6-on-5 man-up situation, after Pat McCurdy drew an ejection on Dartmouth standout driver Ryan Utsumi. Ejections, commonly referred to as kick-outs, would prove crucial in the game, as the Ephs drew two kick-outs on five different Dartmouth players, including three — and the corresponding game ejection — on one starter.
The ejections, mostly earned by perimeter movement, forced Dartmouth to use its substitutes and play less aggressively on defense. This all worked to Williams’ advantage, and it looked as if Williams was pulling away for good midway through the third quarter when Jon Wiener ’02 scored from hole set to make the score 8-4.
But Dartmouth senior Dave Martin made a couple of two-point shots, from seven meters away, and Dartmouth closed out the quarter down by only a goal, 9-8.
“I was really proud of the way we hung in,” said co-captain Dave Walfish ’00. “They had two quick 2’s, but we hung in and answered back.”
Early in the fourth, Lammert, tiring from having played the entire game, gave up a quick kick-out. Williams held on both, and Lammert came back in from the corner and nailed a two-pointer of his own, putting the Ephs ahead to stay, 11-9.
Goalkeeper Geoff Guile ’03, was solid all game, but his high level of play really shined through in the closing minutes. Guile, back in the cage after a frustrating experience last year in the field and riding the bench, is glad to be able to affect the outcome of games again.
“I feel pretty excited because it’s what I have the most experience doing,” said Guile.
The air after the game was dominated by a sense of euphoria, and players were talking about an undefeated season.
“We still have a lot of games ahead of us but it’s always nice to get off to a great start — it will set the tone for the rest of the season,” said Pickard, who led the team in scoring against Dartmouth with four points.
“We have got to ride this wave and keep practicing hard, maybe even pick it
up a notch,” said Walfish. “We’ve got the horses this year.”
Williams is returning 7 players with starting experience from last year, Geoff Allen ’01, McCurdy, Pickard, co-captain Alex Poole ’00, Ian Roche ’00, Walfish and Wiener. Add Lammert and Guile to that mix, as well as top sub Mike Simerman ’02, and it is easy to see why the captains are so excited.
But Sunday morning, barely recovered from the post-victory celebration, the team nearly suffered a letdown of epic proportions. Two newcomers to the league, Tufts and Middlebury, gave Williams an unexpected challenge.
Tufts jumped out to 1-0 lead that lasted through the first quarter. But the Jumbos began to tire and the better conditioned Ephs, sparked by Simerman’s energy off the bench, quickly took control of the half-court game, winning 11-6.
The Middlebury game was never in control for any significant length of time. Tough calls from the referees and two-pointers from Middlebury reduced Williams’ lead to 9-8 early in the third. Williams forced four shots in the fourth, trying to put the game away for good. But Middlebury remained strong, and Williams could not rest until the game’s dying seconds.
In a way, the Middlebury game was a glimpse of the worst-case scenario for this team’s high aspirations. In spite of the team’s depth, injuries nearly decimated it
Already minus a leading scorer in Allen for a few weeks due to a back injury, in the final game the team was without Simerman (thumb), Walfish (shoulder) and Poole (illness). Roche, who was not feeling well, and Pickard, bothered by a chronically inflamed shoulder, both played sparingly. Guile and Lammert, who easily logged more minutes this weekend than any other players, are playing with hip and shoulder problems, respectively. Wiener is also recovering from shoulder surgery.
“Even though we are deeper, we are still going to need everyone healthy to win New Englands,” Pickard said.
Disaster averted, Williams travels to Wesleyan in two weeks for the second and final seeding tournament before the postseason. Victories over Wesleyan and 12th-ranked Yale would earn Williams a first-round bye and some much needed rest at the New England tournament, where the Ephs will be playing in front of the home crowd for a bid to the national championships.