WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass.--The Dartmouth Water Polo team emerged from relative obscurity this past weekend, surprising not only themselves but the entire Water Polo community by winning the National Club Championships at Williams College.
In a sport where many Division I schools compete at the club level, the Dartmouth team achieved its most historic honor with wins over the University of Michigan, Iowa State, Williams College and the University of Colorado.
For Coach Jim Wilson, who has headed the team for the last four years, it was an enormous accomplishment.
"It's tremendous for us, for our alumni, for all our guys. It's also great for the kids that are looking to coming to Dartmouth," Wilson said.
Dartmouth's first contest was a Friday night showdown against the University of Michigan. The Wolverines were not only the returning National Champions, but the first seed of the tournament and the number one club team in the country.
"Realistically, I didn't expect that we would beat Michigan, but I hoped that it would be a competitive game," Joe Fitzgerald '98 said.
But Michigan, who had lost seven starters to graduation, was considerably weaker than the squad Dartmouth had watched win the tournament last year.
The first quarter witnessed both offensive and defensive control by the Big Green. Ken Kriwanek '99 contributed three points, including one two-pointer, and co-captain Brent Boehlert '98 added one more in a superb scoring spree.
Danny Alfonso '99 managed to shut out Michigan's number one player for the entire quarter, ending the 7 minutes of play with a 4-0 Dartmouth lead.
Through the next two quarters Michigan rallied to a 6-6 tie, testing the defense of Dartmouth's players. But during a power play opportunity, Alfonso put in a key goal, returning the lead to the Big Green.
Michigan was unable to come back in the forth quarter as Dartmouth protected its lead to finish the game with an 8-7 win.
Excitement over knocking off the first seed quickly turned into a realization that the championship was within Dartmouth's reach.
"Before the [Michigan] game, I was hoping for fifth, after the game I expected nothing less than the title," Kriwanek said.
The next game against Iowa State was Dartmouth's easiest contest of the weekend. In convincing fashion the Big Green toppled the Cyclones with a final score of 14-4. Led by five goals from Boehlert, three from Derek Soller '00 and six other individual goals, Dartmouth's dominating team effort was out of Iowa's reach.
The Williams game was perhaps the most emotionally charged of the tournament. The rivalry between the two teams goes back several years as both have been at the top of the Eastern league in recent years.
It was only two weeks ago when Dartmouth, having reached the finals of the New England Championships in their undefeated season, were dealt a surprising loss by a scrappy Williams squad. A loud and aggressive home crowd had also rattled Dartmouth in that match, as the New England tournament was also held at the Williams pool.
"I wanted to show Williams who was the better team. The crowd was a factor until we shut them up by halftime," Webb said.
From the onset of this semifinal match, revenge was on the agenda.
"The two toughest losses of the last four years of Water Polo for Dartmouth have been to Williams in Williamstown," explained co-captain Jeff Tam Sing '98.
The first quarter was a pure defensive struggle. With just 13 seconds left John Webb '01 scored the only goal of the quarter. But it was in the second and third quarters when the Big Green came alive.
Led by freshman Ryan Utsumi -- scoring five goals in a 7-0 run -- Dartmouth's offense propelled a stunning victory. Goalie Matt Nelson '00 took control on the defensive side of the board, giving up only three points in the 13-3 victory.
One of the biggest problems for Dartmouth in the New England finals was their inability to capitalize on man-up situations.
At New England's Dartmouth scored on two out of ten man-up opportunities -- at the Nationals the ratio rose dramatically to eight out of ten. This was a direct result of working on these plays in practice, according to Wilson.
The final game against the University of Colorado was the last hurdle in the Big Green's quest for the title.
At halftime Dartmouth was protecting a 5-3 lead, thanks to three goals from Kriwanek and one apiece from Utsumi and Boehlert. Colorado started the second half of scoring with one quick goal, but Boehlert responded with a dramatic two-point shot to put Dartmouth up by three. Colorado climbed back to close the gap to 7-6, but again it was Dartmouth who was able to maintain a lead.
Two goals from Kriwanek, as well as one from Utsumi and one from Boehlert on fast breaks were enough to hold off Colorado. Dartmouth had won the game 11-8, and claimed the National Club Championship for the first time in the team's history.
Both Boehlert and Kriwanek were named to the First National team, and goalie Nelson was named to the second team. Boehlert was also named most valuable player of the tournament for his outstanding play in leading the Big Green to the title.