Brown is an Ivy League power that has always been one of the strongest water polo programs east of the Mississippi. Brown won the CWPA Northern Division regular season title and suffered its third loss of the season when it dropped the CWPA Northern Division Tournament Championship to St. Francis. Despite that, Brown is still one of the teams favored to make December’s National Championships.
Brown is led by Felix Mercado, who has already earned three CWPA Northern Division Coach of the Year honors in his young coaching career and this year’s squad is his best yet. Below Coach Mercado previews Brown’s prospects at Easterns and the national tournament.
Despite your loss to St. Francis in the CWPA Northern Division Championship, Brown has been the strongest team in the East throughout the season and has an solid chance to be a top three seed at the NCAA Championship in December. What does Brown need to do to win the East?
Mercado: We have been playing well all season, though we ran into a tough St. Francis team. We made a couple mistakes and St. Francis was able to take advantage of them. The good thing about Divisionals is that you can make mistakes here and you still have a couple weeks to correct them before Easterns. Princeton and Navy finished in third and fourth place at Southerns so there was really no reward to winning Northerns because we will be playing a very strong Princeton team in the first round of Easterns.
You mentioned the loss to St. Francis. What are you able to take from that loss which will make you better going forward?
Mercado: It was the fourth time we played them this season and every time we have played it has been a one-goal game. We have been [playing] one-goal games for as long as I have been here. It is really tough to beat a team like that four times in one season. This game showed that we have some things to fix. This will help us and our focus. This loss was our first loss since the second week of September. I am not saying we let our guard down, but it does help us pick out our mistakes and correct them.
Brown and Princeton looks to be an exciting first-round matchup at Easterns. Can you let us know your preliminary thoughts on it?
Mercado: It is an interesting scenario for a first-round matchup, but we knew that [to win] an Eastern Championship we would have to go through the defending champs. The fact that they are hosting it will present even more of a challenge, but nothing that we will not be ready for. They are very talented and have great experience. We will show up on the day ready to play our best water polo and I’m sure they will be as well.
Your team has tremendous depth. How do you use that to influence games?
Mercado: Last year our biggest problem was when we got into foul trouble, not being able to bring in consistent guys off our bench to maintain our game plan. We only lost two seniors from last year’s team, [so] everyone returning understood the importance of being able to be called on to perform. They worked very hard this summer and fall and have made our depth one of our strengths. We know we are able to bring five to six guys off the bench to rest our starters and pace our defense without skipping a beat.
Senior Svetozar Stefanovic is one of your best players. What makes him so good?
Mercado: I don’t know that there are any centers in the country better than him. He came to Brown from playing at the highest levels in Serbia. We have put a good team around him with good shooters. Being on a more complete team has made him more of a threat. He has shown great patience and has made great adjustments to drops and zones. Svetozar is still scoring — he scored over a hundred goals this season for the third time in his career.”
James MacNamara is the other part of your two-headed monster. What does he bring to the team?
Coach Mercado: James is one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. He is our safety, he always guards the other team’s best player. James can also guard two-meter. His goals might be down this season, but his assists are way up. He is a great help defender as well. James is just so valuable and is such a force.