PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- In a dogfight from the opening sprint to the closing horn, the No. 13-ranked Terriers of St. Francis College Brooklyn scored twice in the final three minutes of regulation to break a 9-9 tie against No. 18 Princeton University to claim the 2013 Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Championship at Brown University's Katherine Moran Coleman Aquatics Center.
Led by eight saves from 2013 Northern Division Player of the Year and CWPA Championship Most Valuable Player Igor Mladenovic (Sr., Belgrade, Serbia/Sportska Gimnazjia), the Terriers make league history as the team has now won the past two league crowns after capturing the 2012 title at Princeton against Bucknell University (10-9 W OT) last season.
St. Francis joins Yale University (1972-74), Bucknell (1977-80), Brown (1983-85), the United States Naval Academy (1986-88, 2006-08) and the University of Massachusetts (1993-96, 1998-99) as the only programs in league history to claim back-to-back crowns.
Appearing in the team's eighth championship game after capturing the 2012 (10-9 OT vs. Bucknell at Princeton), 2010 (8-4 W vs. Navy at Bucknell) and 2005 (10-9 W at Harvard University) crowns, while falling in the 2007 (11-7 L vs. Navy at Harvard), 2004 (3-2 L OT SD vs. Princeton), 2000 (13- 12 L OT SD vs. Navy at Brown) and 1999 (vs. University of Massachusetts) championship games, the Terriers jumped on the board early to gain the momentum.
It took 2:16 for the Terrierrs to go out in front as Balint Toth (Jr., Budapest, Hungary/Kolcsey Ferenc Gimnazium) took advantage of an ejection call against the Tigers' Sam Butler (Jr., Falls Church, Va./George Mason) with 6:00 to go in the opening quarter to put away a man-up score at the 5:44 mark.
The Tigers responded to the tally by cashing in on their own six-on-five chance at 3:44 when Southern Division Rookie of the Year Jovan Jeremic (Fr., Fountain Valley, Calif./Huntington Beach) slipped a shot past Mladenovic in the wake of Vuk Vujosevic (Jr., Belgrade, Serbia/Milos Crnjanski) being ejected with 4:40 left on the period clock.
St. Francis reacquired the lead and some breathing room to begin the second quarter as Andras Kovacs (Jr., Budapest, Hungary) eluded his defender and finished his shot to make it 2-1 with 6:31 until halftime.
Following the exclusion of Drew Hoffenberg (Jr., Rancho Santa Fe, Calif./The Bishop's School) at 5:51, Ilija Djuretic (Fr., Belgrade, Serbia) stuffed a ball into the back of the cage on the ensuing six-on-five opportunity to engorge the lead to 3-1.
Thomas Nelson (So., Walnut Creek, Calif./De La Salle), who finished as the runner-up in the Tournament Most Valuable Player balloting, cut the lead in two as he curved in a shot with 5:19 remaining on the clock to close within 3-2. However, Liam Veazey (So., Dallas, Texas/Bryan Adams) put SFC back on the board 18 seconds after Nelson's marker with one of his own to return the scoring disadvantage to two at 4-2 with 5:01 glowing down from above.
The pattern of back-and-forth scoring continued for the remainder of the first half as the Terriers matched even effort by the Tigers to close within one or knot the game prior to the halftime buzzer.
Hoffenberg and Nathan Kotylak (Jr., Vancouver, Canada) traded strikes at 2:45 and 2:19, respectively, to make it 5-3, before Jamie Kuprenas (So., Los Angeles, Calif./Loyola) and Northern Division Rookie of the Year/CWPA Championship Rookie of the Tournament Lazar Komadinic (Sr., Belgrade, Serbia) exchanged advantage scores at 1:52 and 1:24 off the ejection of Komadinic (2:11) and Butler (1:42), respectively, to make it 6-4 at the break.
The score-counter score pattern continued into the third quarter as Kuprenas took advantage of an ejection to Djuretic at 6:26 for another man-up tally at 6:09 to close within 6-5, but Djuretic responded in kind by whipping in a six-on-five chance at 5:20 following the ejection of Kurt Buchbinder (Sr., Long Beach, Calif./The Chadwick School) at 5:35 to return the Terriers' lead to a pair at 7-5.
Princeton again pulled to within one as Curtis Fink (Fr., Newport Beach, Calif./Newport Harbor) beat Mladenovic at 4:42 to close within 7-6, but a penalty call on Kuprenas at 4:28 allowed Djuretic to line in a five-meter shot to retain the status quo of a two-goal lead for St. Francis (8-6).
Needing a run to break the score volleying between the two schools that prevented the Tigers from pulling closer, Jeremic stepped up to rip home a feed from Butler for an even-strength marker with 2:53 on the clock to move Princeton within 8-7 entering the fourth quarter.
Facing the potential for a Tigers' rally, Komadinic attempted to thwart Princeton's run by banking a shot off the left post and into the cage over the shoulder of goalie Alex Gow (So., Portola Valley, Calif./Menlo-Atherton) with 6:33 left on the game clock to put St. Francis back in front by a pair at 9-7.
The goal, however, ignited Princeton's offense as Jeremic lined a shot from the right side into the upper right corner of the cage at 5:22 and Nelson connected on a crossing shot at 4:09 to knot the score at nine-all and make it anyone's game.
However, a counter attack chance led to the "golden goal" one minute after Nelson's equalizer as Komadinic ripped home a one-on-one chance with Gow to make it 10-9 in favor of the Terriers. Toth tacked on an insurance goal at 1:21 as the Terriers took home their second consecutive championship plaque.
The win advances St. Francis to a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Championship play-in game as the Terriers will likely clash with the champion of the Western Water Polo Association (WWPA) on Thursday, December 5, at 1:00 p.m. Pacific (4:00 p.m. Eastern) on the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. with a slot in the NCAA Final Four at Stanford on Saturday-Sunday, December 7-8, at stake.
For Princeton, the Tigers fall to 4-4 all-time in league title games with previous losses in 2003 (8-6 L vs. Navy), 2006 (8-6 L at Princeton) and 2008 (9-6 L at Navy) to the Midshipmen, while winning the title in 2011 (10-7 W vs. Navy at Harvard University), 2009 (5-4 W vs. Navy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology), 2004 (3-2 W OT SD vs. St. Francis at Bucknell University) and 1992.
Jeremic led the way for the Black & Orange with a hat-trick, while Kuprenas and Nelson each chipped in pairs of markers. In the cage, Gow stopped 10 shots to take the loss.
For the champion Terriers, Djuretic and Komadinic each registered a hat-trick, while Toth tacked on a pair of tallies to account for St. Francis multi-goal scorers.
The championship marks the first in the career of first-year head coach Srdjan Mihaljevic as the former SFC assistant coach claimed the Dick Russell Coach of the Tournament award for guiding the Terriers to the program's fourth championship in eight appearances in the title tilt.
|No. 18 Princeton University
|No. 13 St. Francis College Brooklyn
SFC Goals: Ilija
Djuretic (3); Lazar Komadinic (3); Balint Toth (2); Andras Kovacs;
Liam Veazey; Nathan Kotylak
Jovan Jeremic (3); Jamie Kuprenas (2); Thomas Nelson (2); Curtis
Fink; Drew Hoffenberg
Saves: SFC - Igor Mladenovic (8) ; Princeton - Alex Gow (10)
Exclusions: SFC - 8 ; Princeton - 8
Advantage Opportunities: SFC - 5-for-8 ; Princeton - 2-for-8
Sprints: SFC - 1-for-4 (1st) ; Princeton - 3-for-4 (2nd, 3rd, 4th)
Cards: YC - SFC (Vuk Vujosevic, 6:33 left in 4th quarter); YC - Princeton (Head coach Luis Nicolao, 37 secs. left in 4th quarter)
Officials: Alex Stankevitch, Hadi Farid
Princeton University's Kurt Buchbinder battles St. Francis College Brooklyn's Balint Toth
St. Francis College Brooklyn's Lazar Komadinic looks to shoot as Princeton University's Curtis Fink (No. 6) closes
St. Francis College Brooklyn's Vuk Vujosevic attempts to grab a steal from Kurt Buchbinder
2013 Collegiate Water Polo
Association Champion - St. Francis College Brooklyn