Polo set for New Englands

The road to Arizona just got a lot tougher for the men’s water polo team. After going 3-1 in the second and final regular season tournament of the year, Williams will enter the New England tournament as second seed.

Williams cruised through its first three games this weekend at Wesleyan, with only a minor scare from Wesleyan on Saturday night. In winning 24-2 over Coast Guard, 10-8 over Wesleyan and 18-11 over Trinity, Williams was able to dictate even who the team wanted to score the next goal. Second-year player Jeff McBride netted the weekend high for a game with five against Trinity.

But the one that got away was the one that Williams wanted. With the cursory games out of the way, Williams dropped the big one to Yale 8-7 in overtime. This means Williams will have its work cut out when it hosts New Englands on October 23-24.

Officials from the governing body of club water polo called the Yale game the best they had seen all season, calling Yale and Williams the two top teams in the country. But only the New England tournament champion will get a bid to Nationals.

Williams will have to face a steadily improving Middlebury team in the first round of New Englands and handle Dartmouth for a second time this year if the Ephs are to meet Yale in a showdown Sunday morning.

The overtime game was an uncharacteristically defensive struggle, marking the first time this year that either team failed to reach double digits.

Williams utilized a sloughing defense — in which certain perimeter defenders lay off to keep the ball out of hole set — to limit Yale’s hole men. Meanwhile, Yale was able to shut down Williams outside shooters.

One of those shooters, co-captain Tom Pickard ’01, was matched up on Yale’s star hole set most of the game.

Said Pickard, “We just couldn’t get the ball in the back of the net. The crossbars at Wesleyan have always had something against us.”

Yale had Williams on the ropes right at the start. At the end of the first quarter, Williams found itself down 3-0, its best scoring opportunities for naught as Dickie Lammert ’03 hit two outside shots down off the crossbar and floating on the mouth of the goal.

But the Ephs, who came back from a 5-0 second-quarter deficit against Yale last year during the regular season, settled down at that point. The defense tightened and kept the ball out of hole, pacing the Ephs to 7-2 run over the next two quarters plus.

But Yale’s hole men put in two goals knot the score up at 7-7. Neither team could break the tie in the closing minutes, despite a flurry of timeouts from both sides. Yale scored out of hole again in the early moments of the first overtime period, and Williams never got it back.

Playing at full strength for the first time all year, Williams now knows exactly how far it has to go. Williams is expecting an advantage from a big home crowd for the afternoon semifinal with Dartmouth, and, if everything falls into place, the next day’s rematch with Yale.

In the meantime, Williams will continue to work on its sloughing defense and its 6-on-5 man-up offense, which failed to produce at all on Sunday.

“We scouted them well, we prepared well, they were just ahead when time ran out,” said co-captain Dave Walfish ’00. “We’ll get them.”