Water polo earns National tournament spot

The men’s water polo club had to have been pleasantly surprised with its situation last Sunday. With 14 seconds left in the New England Division championship game against Yale and a bid to Nationals on the line, Williams had a 10-9 lead and the ball.

For two weeks, the team had been practicing for exactly this situation. The only difference was that they had been practicing with Dartmouth in mind, not Yale.

Yale stunned Dartmouth 10-7 in a Saturday night semifinal, earning the right to face the top-seeded Ephs. Williams, which had earlier steamrolled Tufts 15-2 and Rhode Island 18-7, stuck around to watch that game.

For Williams, which had not faced Yale in over a year, all bets were off.

But, despite the unexpected matchups, Williams was exactly where it wanted to be: leading, and in possession of the ball. The bets, so to speak, were all back on. All they had to do was what they had been practicing. Hold the ball.

And hold it they did. After calling a timeout, Dave Walfish ’01 took the ball. Seconds later, he was hurling it up into the air as his teammates celebrated. Goalie Seth Borland ’03, playing water polo for the first time in his life this season, earned Divisional Player of the Week honors for his eight-block performance.

One of those blocks, early in the second period, shifted momentum to Williams for the remainder of the game.

After a Williams turnover on the first possession of the quarter, a Yale driver counterattacked the other direction. He received the ball in front of the cage with nobody within five seconds of catching him. Borland blocked it, and Yale never led again.

Driver Dickie Lammert ’03 scored a game-high five goals on a game-high 17 shots, an unusually high total for any player, particularly one playing Lammert’s position.

The shot total testifies to how frequently Lammert beat his defender and found openings.

But after converting on only one of six in the first period two of 10 in the first half, Tom Pickard ’01 told him during halftime to keep shooting. Eventually, he said, the shots would go in.

“I would probably have kept shooting anyway,” said Lammert, who hit two of four in the third quarter in addition to drawing two kickouts, “but Tom telling me that made me feel less guilty about it.”

After a long stretch during which Lammert scored five of the team’s seven goals, Williams began to get their offense from other sources. Walfish scored the goal that put Williams ahead to stay with 1:25 left in the fourth, and Tom Pickard ’01scored an insurance goal from the outside with 0:25 left. The importance of that goal, Pickard’s third of the game, showed when Yale scored just 10 seconds later.

Pickard, who marked Yale’s hole set on defense for the entire game in addition to his own three goals, credited others for the contributions to the win. Allen won all four swim-offs at the start of each quarter;

Williams scored on the ensuing possession twice. Brian Strickler ’01, Mike Simerman ’02 and Nate Krissoff ’03 all stole the ball while dropping to help Pickard double-team Yale¹s hole set. Co-captain Pat McCurdy ’02 scored off an assist from Lammert to end a 7:12 drought, more than one-fourth of the game, in the second period.

Williams earned a spot in the 12-team club national tournament, hosted this year by the University of Washington, for the first time since 1997.

Since that time, 50 more men’s club teams have joined the national organization, while Williams has finished a disappointing third in New England two years in a row.

“It’s a big boost to the program to go to nationals again because it raises the standard for what the team can accomplish,” said Pickard. “The program should aim to go to every year and stay competitive at the national level.”

The last time Williams went, it served as host. Pickard was a freshman, which featured an upset victory over powerhouse Ohio State and a fourth-place overall finish.

“Most teams thought of that as a Cinderella type story for Williams,” said Pickard.

“I’ve always believed we are capable of such finishes year after year.”

In three weeks, they¹ll have a chance to prove it when they take to the road for the National Championships in Seattle.