When the St. Francis Brooklyn men’s water polo team plays the University of California San Diego (UCSD) this afternoon at Stanford University, not only is the final berth in the 2013 NCAA Men’s Water Polo Championship at stake, but the Terriers — the NCAA’s smallest Division 1 water polo program —have a shot at being the first Eastern team to win an opening round match in the NCAA championship.
As a result of the NCAA’s new play-in format, No. 5 seed St. Francis (22-10) will face No. 4 UCSD (14-13) at 4 p.m. EST, with the winner advancing to the championship bracket on Saturday against the top-seeded Trojans of USC (26-4).
If they prevail today the Terriers will claim another notable distinction: two straight NCAA tournament victories.
A 14-8 win over Air Force in last year’s NCAA Championship third-place match — the Terriers’ first ever tournament victory — put St. Francis in rarified company as one of a handful of Eastern programs that have achieved success at the NCAAs. However, that success is fleeting: in 54 NCAA appearances the East has 30 wins and 113 losses – an underwhelming .265 winning percentage. The Terriers have an equally unimpressive record of one win and five losses in their three previous NCAA tournaments.
According to St. Francis Head Coach Srdjan Mihaljevic, his team’s situation amounts to simple math. “We are looking for another win,” said Mihaljevic, who has pushed all the right buttons in his first year leading the Terriers. “The whole season now fits into a single game.”
In UCSD the Terriers face an opponent that mirrors their own style and success with multiple attackers who can score complimented by a solid defense. Assessing his team’s opponent, Coach Mihaljevic said “UCSD is a very good, organized, quality team. They are a well-rounded group, nicely balanced on all positions, and what they lack in size, they make up in a relentless effort.”
Even thought the two teams are evenly matched in the pool, the Tritons have a huge advantage over the Terriers, who have traveled 3,000 miles for today’s match. Because they arrived in Palo Alto, CA yesterday, St. Francis has had minimal practice time and a relatively short period to recover.
Mihaljevic — who has maintained a rigorous training regimen all year —believes that his team will be ready to play despite the travel disadvantage.
“We’ll have our hands full,” said the Terriers’ coach “but if we bring our game from the Easterns championship weekend [where St. Francis beat Princeton 11-9
Photo: St Francis Brooklyn goalie Igor Mladenovic in action against USC