CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The No. 12-ranked/Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference (MAWPC) Champion Bucknell University men’s water polo team held off the No. 9/Northeast Water Polo Conference (NWPC) Championship and previously undefeated Harvard University Crimson in a thrilling 13-12 win to earn its first National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Tournament victory since defeating Loyola University (Ill.) in 1985. The Bison advance to Thursday’s NCAA Championship quarterfinal match against No. 2 University of Southern California, the defending national champions. All-America selection and four-time MAWPC Player of the Year Rade Joksimovic led the way with six goals, and goalie Adrien Touzot came up with a big save in the final seconds to keep Bucknell’s season alive.
Bucknell, now one of only six teams in the country still playing in the fall season, earned its 23rd win of the season in the process and avenged an earlier one-goal loss to Harvard this season. The one-goal win was the 10th game in a row between the two schools that was decided by two goals or fewer. The 13-12 result also avenged an overtime defeat to the Crimson in the 2016 NCAA Play-In game at Blodgett Pool by the same score.
The game started well offensively for both teams, as Harvard led 6-5 after the first quarter. Senior Logan Schofield helped get the Bison going early on, drawing an ejection to set up a penalty shot by fellow senior Joksimovic at the 7:10 mark. Schofield then scored Bucknell’s second with 6:22 left in the first after catching a pass from Jared Stanley and skipping a low shot while maneuvering backwards.
The first period consisted of five ties and four lead changes, as Bucknell took its first lead with 4:40 left in the first stanza on back-to-back goals by Joksimovic. Schofield drew an ejection that Joksimovic converted from a penalty shot to tie the game at three before the senior from Novi Sad, Serbia fired a long-distance shot at the 4:40 mark to give Bucknell a 4-3 lead.
After Harvard tied the game with 3:38 to go in the period, Schofield gave Bucknell a 5-4 lead after a heads-up play in the center. Freshman Andu Vlasceanu fired a hard shot that caromed off the crossbar. Schofield scooped it up and fired it in from close range for Bucknell’s fifth. However, back-to-back goals by the Crimson gave Harvard a 6-5 lead after one quarter.
Bucknell trailed by two, 7-5, after Harvard scored just over a minute into the second period. However, Bucknell responded when Cullen Jacuzzi used a pass from the right side of the pool to find Joksimovic open in the center to pull Bucknell within one, 7-6 at the 6:43 mark. Jacuzzi then followed up with a goal of his own to tie the game up at seven with 5:54 left in the half.
Harvard took the lead twice more in the period at 8-7 and 9-8, but goals from Vlasceanu and Joksimovic helped Bucknell work back and tie the game each time. The goal from Joksimovic, on his third penalty shot of the first half, was drawn by Mitchell Scott. The penalty shot with 2:29 left in the first half also helped spark a 3-0 run that Bucknell used to end the quarter.
In the final 38 seconds of the first half, Bucknell added two more goals to complete the 3-0 run on a nice lob from Schofield before Joksimovic scored a delicate lob of his own with two defenders hounding him to beat the first half buzzer.
The two teams clamped down defensively in the third period, with each team managing to score one goal apiece. Harvard started the third quarter by scoring just 21 seconds into the frame, but the Bison kept the Crimson off the board for the remainder of the period. At the 3:48 mark in the third, Stanley attacked from the right side and fired home at the near post to restore Bucknell’s two-goal advantage, 12-10, that it would take into the fourth quarter.
Harvard started the fourth with another early goal just 17 seconds in, but the Bison responded with 7:19 remaining on a long shot in the center from senior Cooper Dolan, who capped off a patient Bison build up with his first goal of the day as Bucknell took a 13-11 lead.
The Bison defensively used a number of field blocks and several key stops from Touzot to help keep Harvard off the board late, but the Crimson did manage to pull within one once again on a goal with 2:27 left in regulation. However, Harvard couldn’t find the equalizing goal as the Bison held on in the final minutes to give the Crimson (29-1) their first defeat of the season. Touzot made his biggest save of the day with about 15 seconds remaining to preserve the dramatic win.
Joksimovic led the Bison with six goals. Schofield added three goals, while Stanley, Dolan, Jacuzzi, and Vlasceanu each chipped in goals.
The Bison will now look ahead to Thursday, December 5 in a matchup against USC in Stockton, Calif., for a spot in the national semifinals. Game time is set for 1:00 p.m. Pacific/4:00 p.m. Eastern with the victor advancing to the championship bracket to play Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Champion Stanford University at Pacific on Saturday, December 7, at 5:00 p.m. Pacific/8:00 p.m. Eastern.
Release courtesy Bucknell University Athletics Communications