Fordham Water Polo Looks to Repeat as MAWPC Champions


Fordham Water Polo will enter the MAWPC tournament as the top overall seed this Friday. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Few things are better than winning a championship in front of your home fans. The Fordham Rams will have that special opportunity this weekend as the Francis B. Messmore Aquatic Center will be the host for the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference (MAWPC) Championship. Boasting an undefeated record in conference play and the #1 seed in the tournament, head coach Brian Bacharach and his group will look to accomplish something never before achieved in program history: consecutive league championships. 

Fordham ends the regular season with a 23-7 record, eerily similar to their 23-6 record at the end of last year’s regular season. It was not, however, the picture perfect ending to the season they might have envisioned. Riding a 15-game winning streak, the longest in program history, Fordham had just one game left on the schedule. Squaring off against a St. Francis Brooklyn College team ranked 20th in the nation, the #18 Fordham Rams saw their winning streak ended in a 14-11 loss. 

Sophomore Jacopo Parrella surpassed the 70-goal mark, scoring four goals in the contest, but the Rams came up short. This is now the second year in a row that St. Francis Brooklyn has handed Fordham a loss in their final regular season game. “We didn’t play very well on Friday,” said Bacharach, noting that there were a lot of aspects of their game that needed to be tidied up. “I’m hopeful and confident that we can correct those things going into the championship this weekend.”

Even coming off a loss, Fordham enters the championship in an excellent position. The 15-game winning streak was an unexpected turn in a season that, at one point, looked concerning. Fordham was 8-6 before the win streak. Coming back from the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) Invitational in California, Bacharach noted that the team was dropping winnable games and struggling to close leads. What followed was a month and a half long stretch of dominance. Fordham outscored opponents 268-130 over the course of the winning streak, holding opponents to just 8.7 points per game as their own offense flourished. To put it simply, Fordham flipped the switch. 

It seems crazy to say, but this year’s team might be even better constructed for a championship run than last year’s was. The offense is better than ever. Sophomores Parrella, George Papanikolaou and Lucas Nieto Jasny have continued to lead the charge, but new additions like graduate student Nir Gross, sophomore Luca Silvestri and freshman Balazs Berenyi have provided the Rams with a wealth of weapons. Last year, Fordham relied heavily on their top four of Parrella, Papanikolaou and Nieto Jasny alongside Hans Zdolsek for their scoring. This year, Fordham is spreading the wealth, to the delight of Bacharach. “I’ve been very happy with the widespread distribution of our offensive attack.” Fordham’s top scorers are still contributing, but they’re also seeing greater production from auxiliary pieces like junior Christos Loupakis and senior Nacho Ariste. “There’s a chance we’re gonna have 10-11 guys with over 20 goals by the end of the year. We’ve never been anywhere near that.”

The defense has shined as well. Last year’s playoff run saw Thomas Lercari thrown into the fire, being named the starting goalkeeper as a freshman due to an injury to all-time saves leader Bailey O’Mara. Now with a year under his belt, Lercari has taken a leap, winning MAWPC Defensive Player of the Week twice in the past month. “Goalkeeping is a huge part of the game,” said Bacharach, who attributes part of Lercari’s success to the defense. “I think the goalie and defense being in sync and understanding one another is a key part to being successful in the cage.”

To make things even sweeter, the championship will be played at home, where Fordham has dominated over the last two years, losing just two games. Bacharach absolutely sees it as an advantage. “I love hosting at home. We’re familiar with the surroundings, the walls, the sounds, the cages, everything.” 

On top of everything else, Bacharach’s Fordham Rams are known for their dominance in conference play. Dating back to last year, Fordham is a whopping 30-1 in league contests. If you’re wondering what their secret is, the key is preparation: “We put a lot of focus on our conference. We prepare extensively for those conference games, and we want our guys to know the conference like the back of their hand.” The stats speak for themselves. At 16-0, Fordham is undefeated in conference play this season. Bacharach echoed something he said at the beginning of the year. “You don’t go to NCAAs without winning those conference games.” You want to hear Bacharach talk about the NCAA tournament, particularly with the MAWPC championship coming up this week, but rest assured he knows the importance of these games.

With the #1 seed, home pool advantage, and an undefeated conference record, Fordham appears to be the clear favorite. At the same time, they also have a massive target on their back. “Other teams are gonna throw everything at us, and we’re gonna throw everything at them.” Particularly with Fordham’s projected matchups in the first two rounds, all signs point to a rematch between Fordham and George Washington University in the MAWPC Championship. But Bacharach isn’t willing to entertain that thought until it happens. “We’ve got a long way to go until Sunday, we’ll just take our first game and go from there.”

Fordham’s first game will take place on Friday, Nov. 18 at 4:20 p.m. They’ll play the winner of Gannon University and McKendree University, two teams Fordham swept with ease during the regular season. Still, Bacharach will treat every game with utmost focus. “Having gone undefeated in the league, I think people expect us to repeat. I continue to say the team, and anyone who will listen to me, there’s a lot of good teams in our league. In any given game, we can be in a dogfight and lose if we aren’t playing at a sharp and top level.”