Men’s water polo makes program history with first-ever NCAA tournament win

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Junior utility player Atakan Destici shoots the ball in a match against Navy last season. Destici led the Colonials with three goals and five assists in the program's first NCAA tournament win Saturday.

Men’s water polo captured the program’s first NCAA win Saturday in an overtime victory over Princeton.

A six-goal scoring explosion paced by sophomore utility player Andras Levai in the back half of the game pushed the Colonials (23-6) ahead 12–11 with less than one minute left in regulation play. The Tigers answered to send the game into extra minutes, where GW dominated the pool and came out on top 14–13 at Princeton’s DeNunzio Pool.

The squad, under second-year head coach Barry King, now owns the program’s best record, topping GW’s 23–10 record under former head coach Van Hoffman in 1997.

GW held the Tigers scoreless for five minutes and 33 seconds of the six extra time minutes. Senior goalkeeper Austin Pyrch recorded seven saves on the day.

Eight separate Colonials found the back of the net in the winning effort, led by junior utility player Atakan Destici with three goals and five assists. Freshman attacker Henry Maas also scored three goals and netted two unanswered goals in overtime to solidify GW’s win.

Destici now owns the program record in career assists with 194 to his name, breaking Brian Mojica’s 191 record set between 2011-2014.

GW headed into the game coming off a 12-11 overtime win in the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference Championship against Bucknell.

Last season, GW fell to Harvard in overtime in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The last time the Colonials and the Tigers met, Princeton came away with a 13–7 win over GW.

This time, freshman utility player Nick Schroeder got GW off to a strong start by putting the team on the scoreboard in the first two minutes of the opening frame, but Princeton answered back with a goal of its own to knot the score.

The Tigers recorded another goal to go up 2–1 before Destici received the ball from Levai in front of Princeton’s net and fired off a rocket to neutralize the score 2–2 and close out the first quarter.

The Tigers charged ahead to their largest lead of the half in the second quarter when Princeton buried three straight shots to lead GW 5–2 with five minutes before halftime.

Another goal by Destici snapped GW’s scoring drought and closed the gap between the Colonials and the Tigers. The Colonials’ leading goal scorer collected a loose ball and fired from deep, placing the ball right above the shoulder of Princeton’s keeper to make the score 5–3.

The Tigers picked up another goal to gain a three-goal lead but freshman attacker Finn Lillis tallied a goal to send GW into the locker room trailing 6–4.

After two quarters of the play, the Colonials were led Destici with two goals to his name. The freshman duo of Schroeder and Lillis rounded out the scoring for GW with one goal each. The Colonials were on pace for their lowest scoring game since their 9–8 win over Whittier on Sept. 15.

But the teams came out firing and went point-for-point to open the third frame. GW conceded the first goal of the quarter before freshman attacker Henry Maas answered back with a goal of his own to push GW within two of the lead. Junior center Andrew Mavis continued the scoring run for the Colonials, netting his only goal of the day to keep GW competitive.

GW’s scoring stalled for two minutes, allowing the Tigers to net back-to-back goals to put four goals between GW and the lead with four minutes left in the frame. The Tigers scored once more to pull ahead 11–6 before junior center defender Jordan Blosser notched his first goal of the game to spur GW’s six-goal scoring run.

A made penalty shot by Destici with a minute left in the third quarter continued the Colonials’ scoring burst before Levai – who was held scoreless in the first three quarters of play – exploded with a three-goal scoring run to open the final frame and tie the game 11–11 with four minutes left in play.

Both teams struggled to break the stalemate before senior utility player Zach Slaughter fired off from deep to give GW the 12–11 lead with 58 seconds left in play. But the Colonials were unable to hold off the Tigers, who snuck in another goal with 26 seconds to go in regulation to extend the game into extra minutes.

The Tigers struck first in overtime, but Maas kept the Colonials alive with two unanswered goals to give GW a 14–13 lead heading into the final three-minute overtime period.

A save by Pyrch with less than one minute to go solidified GW’s win and inked the team’s place in program history.

The Colonials return to action Thursday when they take on UCLA at Stanford’s Avery Aquatic Center to battle for a spot in the semifinal round of the NCAA Championship tournament. Swim off is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. PST.

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