Water Polo Closes Its Historic Season With NCAA Tournament Loss Against Princeton

Fordham’s incredible season ends in the program’s first MAWPC trophy, an NCAA tournament appearance and an even brighter future for the players and coaches who will carry the water polo squad forward.


Fordham competed against Princeton in its first NCAA tournament match. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

The past two weeks for the Fordham water polo squad brought home many firsts. The most notable accomplishment came through winning the Mid Atlantic Water Polo Conference Championship for the first time in program history. This gave the Rams an automatic bid for the NCAA Championship tournament, again serving as a first for the program.

Additionally, graduate student Hans Zdolsek claimed Fordham’s first MAWPC East MVP. Piling on top of these accolades, freshman George Papanikolaou was named Rookie of the Year with head coach Brian Bacharach honored as Coach of the Year. While Fordham did fall to Princeton University in the first round of the NCAA tournament, this season will go down in the record books as one of, if not the best, in franchise history.

The first match of the MAWPC saw Fordham trounce Mount St. Mary’s University on Friday, Nov. 19. The Rams struck first, establishing an early 5–0 lead behind senior Dimitris Koukias and freshan Lucas Nieto Jasny, who finished the game with three and four scores respectively. The lead grew to 9–4 by halftime, and they didn’t look back, with a 20–6 final score. Senior captain Bailey O’Mara remained sidelined throughout the tournament due to injury, allowing freshman Thomas Lercari to slide in with eight saves in the first three quarters. 

However, Saturday’s match did not come as easily as the first. The Rams prevailed in a double overtime thriller resulting in an 11–10 victory over Wagner College. The first half was as tight as any had been all season, with the Seahawks narrowly leading heading into the second, 7–6. They built on this lead, growing the gap to three late in the third quarter. However, three Koukias scores — one at the end of the third and two late in the fourth — tied the match at ten apiece, sending it to overtime. The first OT saw no action, but Hans Zdolsek scored on a man-advantage opportunity in the second. Fordham narrowly held on, advancing to the MAWPC tournament final for the first time since 1974.

Their opponent, the Naval Academy jumped out to an initial 2-1 lead in the title match on Sunday. However, this was their only lead of the afternoon. Fordham scored three consecutive goals and refused to look back. The Rams extended the lead to three by the third quarter, which eventually gave Fordham its first MAWPC championship in program history. 

Hans Zdolsek, the captain from Linkoping, Sweden took home MVP of the tournament. When asked about his reaction to being recognized in such high regard, he humbly said  “it feels amazing of course, but I was a bit surprised. I feel like there’s a lot of guys, especially on our team, that deserve this award.” He continued, “I’m really proud to be recognized in that way, but there’s so many good athletes on our team, and in the conference as well.” 

Indeed, the league took notice of this. Alongside Zdolsek, Parrella and Papanikolaou were all named to the All-Tournament First Team, Nieto Jasny to the Second Team, Thomas Lercari Rookie of the Tournament and Bacharach Coach of the Tournament.

“I’m very proud of what we accomplished as a team, and that we managed to have so many new guys come in as a very fresh, young team in the way that we did,” Zdolsek added on the team’s success.

On Saturday, Nov. 17, Fordham’s season came to an end, falling to Princeton in their first NCAA tournament appearance, 17–8. While it was close in the first half, Princeton dominated the second half, leading by as much as nine in the third quarter. Hans Zdolsek led the Rams with three goals and an assist. Zdolsek, one of three seniors moving on from the team, acknowledged that while they ultimately came up short, the future is bright. 

“I’m very happy to leave the team in the good hands of the coaches and the guys on the team right now because I think they’re going to keep building toward that.”