On Saturday, Nov. 3 and Sunday, Nov. 4, Wesleyan men’s water polo completed in the Division III Club National Tournament for the first time since 2008. This year’s Nationals was hosted by fellow NESCAC school Middlebury, whom Wesleyan had defeated during the regular season in order to earn a bid to the event. Aside from the Cardinals and the Panthers—who received an automatic bid as the host—conference foes Tufts and Hamilton also participated. While the Cardinals went 1-2 on the weekend, their performance was good enough for a fourth place finish overall, the highest of any club NESCAC team.
Wesleyan entered Nationals as the fifth seed overall and began tournament play on Saturday afternoon versus fourth-seeded Hamilton. The first half saw the two teams trade goals with each other, with the Cardinals managing a 5-4 lead going into the break. However, things did not stay close for long once the action resumed, as the Cards bore down on defense and held the Continentals to one goal for the remainder of play while doubling their own total en route to a 10-5 victory. Co-captain hole-set Russell Madison ’14 earned Player of the Game honors, scoring six goals of his own to put victory firmly in Wesleyan’s grasp.
The Cardinals’ win over Hamilton set them up for quite the challenge later that evening—a match against top-seeded Washington University in St. Louis, the defending tournament champions from 2011. Evidently unfazed, Wesleyan jumped out to a lead half a minute into the contest with a goal by Nick Huston ’13. The Bears then responded with two goals of their own, but co-captain Wes Fantini ’13 tied things up at two apiece. Much of the rest of the game was similarly close, with back-and-forth action that saw Fantini score again, Madison earn a hat trick, and Thomas Cho ’13 and Huston chipped in one goal apiece. However, WashU pulled away with three unanswered goals late in the fourth quarter for a 10-7 triumph, ending what seemed to be an increasingly realistic hope for Wesleyan of winning it all.
“We fought hard and outplayed our opponent for most of the game, but there were a few minutes in which we made a lot of mistakes, which they capitalized on,” Madison said.
In Sunday morning’s bronze medal matchup, the Cardinals built a 3-0 lead against seventh-seeded Emory before the Eagles battled back for an 8-7 lead at halftime. In the second half, Emory converted a few saves into counterattack goals, forcing Wesleyan’s earlier consistent defense to panic and falter. The Cardinals committed 11 exclusion fouls, seven of which led to man-up goals by the Eagles. When the water had settled Emory had won by a comfortable score of 17-9.
In spite of the weekend’s losses, the Cardinals took pride in winning their one NESCAC match to come in fourth overall and first among schools in the conference, as Tufts finished fifth, Hamilton seventh, and Middlebury eighth. Additionally, the Cards had three players receive All-Tournament honors, as Madison and goalie Navarre Ginsberg ’16 made First Team and Fantini made Second Team.
Wesleyan bids farewell to Jeff Arace ’12, Cho, Huston, and three-year co-captain Fantini. All four of these players were starters for the entirety of the 2012 season, meaning there are going to be some big shoes to fill come 2013. However, Madison remains optimistic.
“We made a lot of improvements individually and as a team. Losing four starters will be difficult to overcome, but hopefully the underclassmen gained some experience and we can produce a similar result next year.”