Men’s water polo is gearing up for its second consecutive title defense at the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference Championships later this month.
Ending the regular season with a pair of victories over the weekend, the Colonials (20–8, 9–3 MAWPC) finished the year with a winning overall and conference regular season record, securing a top three seed in the MAWPC. Looking to repeat as conference champions for the third consecutive year and punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, players said they want to capitalize on the growth they’ve shown throughout the year.
Head coach Barry King, now in his third year at the helm after leading GW to a pair of historic seasons in 2017 and 2018, said the Colonials’ championship pedigree sets the team apart from the competition in the rest of the conference.
“For the last two years nobody else has won it, so I think that confidence of, ‘Oh yeah, we’ve been here, we’ve beaten all these teams, we’ve got the rings to prove our continued growth and success,’” King said.
King said early season injuries, specifically to senior utility player Atakan Destici, did a number on the team’s regular season performance, which finished slightly below the team’s 23–7 regular season record last year. Despite three fewer victories, the Colonials finished the year with a winning percentage of .750 in conference play, the same percentage they finished with last season.
King said a challenge for the Colonials this season was falling behind early in contests, which he said improved as the season progressed.
“We’ve been addressing the M.O. so far this year which has been to give up some early deficits and then work our way through it throughout the game,” King said. “I think we’ve done a better job of not giving up those deficits.”
After dropping a matchup against top division rival Bucknell 13–8 Oct. 13, the Colonials rebounded in the team’s final regular season contest Sunday to stun the Bison with an 11–10 victory. Heading into a championship slate that will likely see the Colonials face off against Bucknell again, members of the team, including senior center Jordan Blosser, said the momentum they now have should allow them to come out on top against Bucknell or any other conference rival.
“It really sets the tempo, beating them in the last game of the regular season because we’re going into the tournament with a team that we hope to play in the finals,” Blosser said. “It gives us a level of confidence that I think will help us a lot going into the playoffs.”
Blosser, who ranks third on the team with 43 goals, said the team has adapted to injuries throughout the year and worked to become more “well-rounded” than in previous years. He said the improvement makes him an asset to the team in championship play.
“We have a lot of new guys that came in and contributed a lot and helped right away, and our chemistry has always been strong and I think we’ve continued from that,” Blosser said.
This year’s squad includes just three freshmen compared to seven last season. King said the leadership progression of several members of the team, most prominently including sophomore utility player DJ Davis, “embodies the growth of the group.”
“He gets in there and defends and swims fast and you can just see his comfort level in terms of contribution go way up,” King said. “The more guys we have who are willing to do that, the better it is for us.”
Sophomore utility player Nick Schroeder, who has already surpassed his 2018 totals in assists, points and steals, said playing on a healthy roster, which was the team’s major weakness throughout the season, is crucial to clinching another championship birth.
“Now it’s nice because we’re almost all healthy so it’s getting everyone incorporated and used to playing with each other again,” Schroeder said.
Going into the championships, Schroeder said the team should emphasize gaining an early lead on opponents in order to find success.
“All year we have not started as strong as we’ve hoped for, we usually find ourselves losing by a goal or two in the first quarter and then make that up through the rest of the game,” Schroeder said. “So just making sure that we come out hard and don’t put ourselves in a deficit early.”
The Colonials are back in action Nov. 22 in the MAWPC Championship.