Water Polo Defeats #18 St. Francis Brooklyn, Takes Two Out of Three at Princeton Invitational


Water Polo has battled through a tough early schedule. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Fordham Water Polo, ranked #17, earned its first win over a Top 20 opponent this weekend with a win against #18, St. Francis Brooklyn College. The victory came in the three-game Princeton Invitational that saw Fordham take two of three and improve upon some of the sloppier aspects of their play from the first week.

Fordham entered this weekend 2-2 after splitting the Bruno Invitational to start the season. With losses to #16 Harvard University and #5 University of Pacific, the Rams would look for better fortunes as they were tested once again with two teams in the Top 20 national poll. 

Fordham kicked things off with an 18-11 win over California Lutheran University. The Rams held a 9-4 lead at halftime and carried that momentum into the third quarter, scoring five goals while holding Cal Lutheran scoreless. Junior Christos Loupakis led the offensive attack with five goals while sophomore Lucas Nieto Jasny was very active with two goals, four assists and three steals. Graduate student Nir Gross made his Fordham debut after missing the opening week to participate in nationals. The University of California, Davis, transfer notched a goal and two assists in an impressive day for the Fordham offense, with 12 Rams scoring at least one goal. Sophomore goalie Thomas Lercari shined, playing the first three quarters and shutting down the Cal Lutheran offense as he held them to just four goals. 

The Rams won their second straight game, opening their Sunday double header with a 17-8 victory over St. Francis Brooklyn College. The Rams got on the board first with Gross’ second of the season, giving them a lead they would maintain for the entire game. Fordham featured a balanced offensive attack. Loupakis led the team in goals for the second straight game, notching four, while sophomore George Papanikolaou and freshman Balazs Berenyi tallied three each. Gross and sophomore Jacopo Parrella each scored twice in Fordham’s statement nine-goal win. Lercari was superb once again, making 13 saves and holding a talented offense to just eight goals. Head coach Brian Bacharach described the victory as Fordham’s strongest performance of the season so far. 

Fordham was unable to come away with the sweep, falling to #10 Princeton in a tight 13-12 loss. After Princeton ended Fordham’s season last year in the opening round of the NCAA tournament with a 17-8 victory, the Rams put together a much better effort, taking a 10-8 lead into the fourth quarter. Princeton would put together three straight goals to take a 11-10 lead in the fourth. Gross answered with a goal to tie things at 11, but two straight goals gave Princeton the lead with 23 seconds to play. Loupakis scored a late extra man goal, but it wasn’t enough as the Rams fell just short. Parrella led the Fordham attack with a game-high five goals while Loupakis notched another three to cap off an impressive series. 

Loupakis led the team this weekend with 13 goals. While the big three of players – Parrella, Papanikolaou and Nieto Jasny – rightfully get a ton of credit for Fordham’s offensive success, Loupakis’ presence in front of the net as a dominant goal scorer adds another wrinkle that opposing defenses have to prepare for. Gross seemed to adjust well in his first series of games with the team, scoring four goals over the course of the weekend. “I think he’s just gonna get better as the season goes along and as we continue to figure out how to play with him in the confines of our system,” said Bacharach. Berenyi, fresh off of being named Mid Atlantic Water Polo Conference (MAWPC) Rookie of the Week, continued to impress and appears to be a major factor in Fordham’s overall gameplan. Lercari was impressive in goal, with strong performances in all three games. With a brilliant game against St. Francis and strong performances against Pacific and Princeton, Lercari has fared well early against Top 20 teams.

Despite failing to come away with the weekend sweep, Fordham’s play in the Princeton Invitational was indicative of a team that showed strong improvement in its second week of play. Bacharach was critical of the team’s play against #16 Harvard in their season opening loss. While he felt his club got better throughout the opening weekend, it’s encouraging to see Fordham play tighter and cleaner games in their second week. With a dominant win over #18 St. Francis Brooklyn and a well played game against #10 Princeton, Fordham continues to show that they can hang with some of the league’s best. 

“Part of our focus is gonna be to just figure out how to put together complete games,” remarked Bacharach. Fordham has struggled to maintain leads against top competition early on this season, surrendering fourth quarter leads to Pacific and Princeton. Bacharach felt his team played well for three quarters against Pacific and three and a half quarters against Princeton, but was unable to maintain that play in the final minutes. He believes that improved team chemistry and conditioning, two things that should only improve as the season goes along, will help Fordham close out those games. “You wanna be peaking in October, November. I think we’re still getting to that point.”

The Rams will get their first taste of league play this weekend, facing three MAWPC opponents in Mount St. Mary’s University, Bucknell University and Wagner College in the Bison Invitational. Bacharach acknowledged that there’s a different mindset going into conference play. “The goal is to win a conference championship. You can’t get to the NCAAs unless you win your conference. This is a big prep week for us.”

At 4-3, Fordham will look to pick up some of those crucial league wins. Despite facing four Top 20 teams, Bacharach is taking a page out of the Bill Parcells coaching book. “You are as good as your record is at any point in time. You wanna be in the top 10-15, you gotta beat the top 10-15.” It’s a mindset like that that keeps the Rams hungry for back to back conference championships.