Men's water polo takes fourth in New England

by Greg Holtz | 11/6/02 6:00am

The Dartmouth men's water polo team finished its season two weekends ago, struggling to a fourth-place finish in the New England division. The tournament, which decided what team goes on to the national championship tournament in California, was held at Weslyan College.

Seeded third going into the weekend, the team easily handled its first two opponents, outscoring host Weslyan and the University of Rhode Island 33-9.

The real challenge came Saturday night, in the semi-final game against the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Due to budget cuts, the team's varsity program was scratched, and while many players transferred to other NCAA schools, many also stayed with the team as it switched to club level competition.

The game began with defense, as both teams foiled one another's attacks throughout the first half. Dartmouth was trailing 2-4 going into the third quarter. A quick UMass goal was countered by a shot from Nick Chukiat '05, and the game looked to be a nail-biter.

UMass had other plans, however, and the Big Green couldn't contain the Minutemen's offense. The quarter ended with Dartmouth trailing 3-9.

The fourth quarter provided a momentary glimpse of genius in the Big Green, as the team rallied to get back into the game. Quick goals put the game back in reach, as Dartmouth trailed 7-9. Again UMass squashed its hopes, holding strong during crucial man-up situations.

Despite a final burst of energy, Dartmouth fell to UMass, 7-11.

"We played our hearts out, but it just didn't cut it against these ex-varsity [players]," Ross Markwort '04 said.

The third-place game on Sunday gave the Big Green an opportunity for a rematch against Boston College, after an exciting overtime loss one month ago. BC also fell victim to budget cuts and the loss of its varsity program.

Defense was again the word of the day in the game, as both teams stepped up to quell opposing attacks.

Dartmouth started out in the hole, letting the Eagles soar to 3-1 lead at half. The trend continued, resulting in a 6-3 Big Green loss and fourth-place finish on the season.

Chukiat said, "We had hoped to do a little better, but in general, everyone on the team played well and we're looking forward to next year."

The year was a success for the Big Green, however, despite failing to repeat as New England Champions.

Mike Block '04 struggled to figure out what happened to a solid Big Green group.

"I feel that our team made great strides in several areas. Our defense was the best in New England, our counter-attack was the most effective it has ever been and we were able to beat every team in our division, except for BC and UMass. Everyone seemed to really want to contribute and this resulted in a great team chemistry, even out of the pool," Block said.

The team will only lose two seniors this year, captain Mike Mothner '03 and powerhouse Paul Schned '03.

"I really enjoyed this year, and though I am disappointed in the final standings, I feel that we accomplished a lot during my last year on the team," Mothner said.

"They'll continue to play fiercely, and with the bonus of a decent '07 class, will have a very solid chance to take back the title."

Though their losses will not go unnoticed, the strength of the '04 class and the depth and improvement of the '06 class will help ensure another strong season for the polomen.

Especially promising for next year are Ryan Goldhahn '04 and Matt Derr '04, both core members of the squad since their freshmen year. Add to that the defense and shot of Markwort, the unprecedented improvement of Block, the cautious power of Chukiat and a generally solid '06 class, and the team has the ingredients for success.

Much-improved goalie Pierce Perotti '06 expressed his opinion of the freshmen and their future with the program.

"I feel the freshman class grew tremendously as players and with the return of five starters, I think we have a great chance to win New Englands next year."

Time and training will tell, but New England should beware a powerful Dartmouth team next fall.