Water Polo Sweeps First Weekend of League Play


Water Polo dominated the opening league games this past weekend. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Fordham Water Polo went 4-0 at the Bison Invitational this past weekend, picking up three league wins in their first taste of conference play. It’s their first tournament sweep of the season as the Rams combined their high-octane offense with stout defense for a perfect weekend. 

Heading into the invitational, head coach Brian Bacharach did not downplay the importance of these games. “We do a lot more prep work for our league games than we do in a tournament setting.” Coming off a 2021 season that saw Fordham go 11-1 in conference play and come away with the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference (MAWPC) championship, it was important for Fordham to continue that success with a strong start in league play. 

“This is our first chance to get to know those other teams that we’re gonna face on a run through the conference tournament,” said Bacharach. “We really need to start to get to know the other teams, their styles, their players and learn how to minimize their strengths and maximize our production against their weaknesses.”

Tournament play began for the Rams on Saturday with a matchup against Mount St. Mary’s University. Up 14-13 in the final quarter, Fordham scored three goals in the final three minutes to secure a 17-13 victory. Graduate student Nir Gross led the offense with five goals with sophomore Jacopo Parrella close behind him with four. Sophomore driver George Papanikolaou put together an eight point day behind three goals and five assists. Sophomore transfer student Luca Silvestri scored two goals in his debut with the Rams after missing the first two weeks due to injury. 

Fordham picked up its second win of the day with a 10-7 defensive thriller against Bucknell University. Bacharach admitted that Bucknell would be a bit of a surprise for the team going in. “We’re gonna be a little in the dark about who they are and what they’re gonna try and do against us so we’ll have to adjust on the fly a little bit.” The Rams managed just fine, holding the Bisons to seven goals as sophomore Thomas Lercari made 12 saves in net. Hat tricks from Parrella and Papanikolaou as well as a two goal, two assist game from Silvestri were enough to carry Fordham to a win.

The Rams began Sunday with their final league game of the tournament, and potentially their toughest one at that, squaring off against Wagner College. Bacharach was prepared for a tight game, noting that “they’ve got as good of a starting six as anyone on the east coast.” Fordham maintained a small lead for much of the game, and capped off a one goal victory by holding Wagner scoreless for the final two minutes and 47 seconds to secure the 12-11 win. Parrella notched his second straight hat trick and was not alone in doing so as Gross put up three goals of his own while sophomore Lucas Nieto Jasny and junior Christos Loupakis contributed two each.

Fordham capped off the day with a non-league game against Salem University. Taking a 9-8 lead into halftime, the Rams exploded in the second half, scoring six goals in the third quarter and nine in the fourth for a 24-12 victory. Papanikolaou and freshman Balazs Berenyi scored four goals each while sophomores Nieto Jasny, Gabriel Melillo and Victor Schultz notched two each. Lercari impressed once again, making 16 saves to pair with two assists as he held Salem to just four goals in the second half. 

The Rams have now swept the Bison Invitational for three years in a row dating back to 2019. They seem to be getting better every week, something that should appease Bacharach as he emphasized building up for the high leverage games in Oct. and Nov. Thomas Lercari seems to be quelling any doubts about the goaltender position in the wake of Bailey O’Mara’s departure, proving himself as a talented young goalie week in and week out. Parrella had himself a 10 goal weekend and Gross put up nine goals in his second week with the team.

Fordham had an excellent offense last year, and it may have gotten even better this year. With the additions of Gross, Silvestri and Berenyi to an already dynamic core, the Rams have a plethora of offensive weapons that makes them incredibly difficult to defend against. In eight of the eleven games played, the Rams have had a player score four or more goals during a game. Parrella, Berenyi and Loupakis have each accomplished the feat twice already. 

Next weekend will be an exciting one for the Rams as Fordham travels to Stanford, California for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Invitational. It’ll be the biggest test of the season so far as 16 of the top 20 teams in the nation will be participating. Fordham has the honor of being the only east coast team at the invite. Bacharach views the invite as a great test for the program, adding “I don’t know if we’re a top-10, top-15 team in the country, but we will certainly know after we play those games.”

Win or lose, expect Fordham’s national ranking to change after the upcoming weekend. Still ranked #17 in the national polls, the Rams will open against #3 ranked University of Southern California on Friday. Saturday will feature a match against either #6 UC Davis or #12 UC Irvine. A game against UC Davis would be a homecoming of sorts for Gross, who played there to tremendous results for four years. The final game on Sunday will be determined by tournament results but it would likely be another top 10-15 team. “If we can win a few games out there, then we should be in that conversation,” said Bacharach. “If not, then we’ve got work to do.”