Men’s water polo wins back-to-back national championships

The Lindenwood mens water polo team posing with their trophy after winning the CWPA Mens National Collegiate Club Championship on Sunday, Nov. 17 in Pennsylvania.  Photo by the CWPA.

The Lindenwood men’s water polo team posing with their trophy after winning the CWPA Men’s National Collegiate Club Championship on Sunday, Nov. 17 in Pennsylvania.
Photo by the CWPA.

Merlina San Nicolás Leyva, Sports Editor

The Lindenwood men’s water polo team came into the Men’s Collegiate Club Championships as the defending champions and the No.1 ranked team. On Sunday, the Lions successfully defended their title after defeating the University of Southern California, 9-5, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

The Lions swept the entire bracket on their road to the championship match. First, the Lions defeated the University of Pittsburgh on Friday morning, 26-3.

On Saturday morning the Lions met Michigan State University, taking an early lead which they never let go of. By halftime, the Lions were leading 9-1 and ended up winning 14-6 after exchanging goals with the Spartans in the last quarter.

“The first two matches were all about getting to know the pool, the circumstances, and to let everybody on the team play,” sophomore Benedek Horvath said. “Saturday is usually the hardest day because you have two games. We knew MSU would not be a big deal, the tactic that we agreed upon before the game was to get the lead, then slow down.”

Later in the day, the Lions took on No. 2 ranked University of California – San Diego for the semifinals and this time, the match was much tighter.

“We all knew that anything could happen on a semifinal and that we needed to play at our highest level,” graduate student Marc Tahull said. “We were aware of the difficulty of the game, however, we know that our team is very talented and that gives us a lot of confidence.”

The Lions last practice before they headed to nationals on Nov. 12.
Photo by James Tananan Kamnuedkhan

The Lions had a two-point lead going into the halftime, but UC – San Diego quickly cut the deficit during the third quarter with three consecutive goals to take the lead, 7-6.  During the fourth quarter, the Tritons profited of a man-advantage and scored again, but the Lions took advantage of a penalty shot and a man-up score to secure the win, 9-11, behind a score from freshman Mateo Lema only 35 seconds before the end of the game.

Sunday afternoon, the Lions met with the University of Southern California at the Trees Hall Fitness Center and were ready to fight for their second consecutive Collegiate Water Polo Association national title.

“We saw USC play the day before and we all sat down and analyzed their strengths and weaknesses for which we devised a plan in order to be effective,” team captain Ratimir Babic said. “We all love to play against the odds as everyone was against us due to the diversity of the team that is comprised out of many different cultures.”

The Trojans took the lead 90 seconds into the match, but the Lions stole it by the end of the first quarter for a 2-1 score. During the second quarter, the Trojans evened up the match, 2-2, but the Lions fired three goals in a row – one which came by a penalty – to regain the lead. During the third and fourth quarter, the Lions were constantly on defense but were able to stop most of the goals from the Trojans for a 7-3 final score.

We all love to play against the odds, as everyone was against us due to the diversity of [our] team.

— Ratimir Babic

The program’s success is due to the combination of the coaching staff and the players’ adaptability and experiences overseas. Out of 33 players, 20 of them are from Europe.

“The coaching staff gives us a rough playbook which we the players dissect and make it fit to our specific style of play,” Babic said. “I would love to thank our coaches, Miller and Nasev, for giving us the creative freedom and the necessary push to accomplish what we did.”

With this title, the Lions tied Cal Poly State University for the most CWPA Men’s Collegiate Club Championships at five, all in the last six years. Tahull and Marcel Farres – who made 16 saves in the championship match – earned a spot on the First Team selection, while Marino Chorro from Spain earned Second Team selection.

“The best way to be mentally prepared for important games is to not think about it,” freshman goalie Farres said. “The best way to get into the game is to not be afraid of the other team, and think you are mentally above them.”

The Lions close their season with a perfect 10-0 record, their eight straight Missouri Valley Division Championship title and their 13th overall.