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Water polo finishes seventh at Nationals

Aalton Lande ’17 and Zach Laird ’15 defend an opponent’s shot. Photo by John Brady.

The men’s water polo team placed seventh at the Division III Club Championship Nationals last weekend at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine.

The Wild Turkeys, ranked eighth heading into Nationals, won an unprecedentedly competitive game against Bowdoin in their first match on Saturday. In what turned out to be the longest opening round competition in the history of the Collegiate Water Polo Association Championship, the Wild Turkeys survived a double sudden-death overtime, triumphing 10-9.

“It was more difficult than we had anticipated,” said co-captain Ben Weideman ’15.

Fortunately, the Wild Turkeys were accustomed to a higher level of competition this season as they competed in a Division I league in the regular season.

“We had plenty of chances to put it away,” he said. “They just kept coming back at the last second. I think we could have been more prepared going in. We were on Bowdoin’s home court, and they had a stand full of people to support and cheer for them.”

Co-captain Tim Sherwood ’16 earned the Player of the Game, scoring four goals. Also scoring were Weideman with two goals, and Kyren DiMarzio ’17, Tristan Knoth ’17, Josh Ball ’18 and co-captain Austin Cote ’15. Zach Laird ’17 made 15 saves.

“This year, we were used to playing closer games,” Sherwood said. “In previous years, we wouldn’t have been as composed, but since we were used to playing close games we were able to finish it out. We willed our way to win.”

Aalton Lande ’17 and Zach Laird ’15 defend an opponent’s shot. Photo by John Brady.
Aalton Lande ’17 and Zach Laird ’15 defend an opponent’s shot. Photo by John Brady.

Later that day, the Pioneers fell 15-9 to perennial powerhouse University of California Santa Cruz, the defending champion and the number-one seed in this year’s   tournament, in the semifinals. Last year, the Wild Turkeys nearly upset the Banana Slugs at Nationals, but this year, the Slugs were prepared.

“We went in with high hopes, thinking maybe we could win,” Sherwood said. “Santa Cruz knew we were good this year and came out really aggressively. It’s tough to compete with their army of guys. I don’t think our team was ready to get beat up. It was overwhelming.”

“They came out really strong and scored really fast. We were taken aback and spent the whole rest of the game trying to make up points that we had lost in the very beginning,” Weideman added.

Weideman and Sherwood scored four and three goals, respectively. Knoth and Will Gottlieb ’15 also scored for Grinnell.

Because of the tournament setup, following this loss the Wild Turkeys were left playing a consolation game for seventh place. On Sunday, the team easily beat Augustana College 9-4 with Sherwood scoring five goals (including a hat-trick in the first half), Weideman three and Knoth and Cote each contributing one. Laird made 11 saves.

“It wasn’t super challenging to put away the game,” Weideman said. “We didn’t play at our highest level, but we didn’t have to. We’ve been unlucky for two years in terms of the way the seeding turned out. We play the best team early. We lose, and then we play one of the less competitive teams.”

Because Grinnell played only against Division I opponents in the regular season and thus had no record against Division III opponents, the team was seeded last at Nationals. 

“We moved divisions so we were automatically put in the last seed,” he said. “Honestly, we were probably within the top three teams. It’s disappointing.”

However, looking forward, it is likely the Wild Turkeys will remain a contender within the Great Plains Division, Division I league, and at the national level.

“We should still be pretty good because we’re returning a big core of our players,” Sherwood said. “It will be a transition because we are losing our captains Ben and Austin. Hopefully we can get new incoming freshmen and recruit more swimmers. Next year at DIII Nationals, we will have a better seed and be in a better position to make it to that championship game.”

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