LOS ANGELES — The St. Francis (N.Y.) Terriers (17-9) won their first game at the NCAA Men’s Water Polo Tournament, defeating the Air Force Falcons (19-12) 14-8 to capture the third-place trophy at McDonald’s Swim Stadium on Sunday. It was the biggest win in the history of the Terriers’ Division I athletic program.
“This was more than just a victory,” Terriers’ fourth-year head coach Igor Samardzija said. “Our performance was amazing. It just shows, again, the character of this team. After one of our biggest losses, to come back the next day and play one of the best games of the season. All of us associated with the team should be proud. I just told the guys to just be patient. It’s natural.
[On Saturday] nothing went our way and it’s just not possible to have those two days in a row. I have to give credit to Air Force, they really put it out there, and maybe that cost them today. [Saturday] I used the second half to rest my players because it was obvious we were losing the game and it doesn’t matter if you lose by five or by 15. They are great competitors. Every year, we go to Colorado and we try to beat them. These are the kind of teams that bring the best out of our team.”
Senior attacker Marko Gencic, the leading scorer in the program’s annals, finished his career with a team-high four points to give him 213 career goals.
|WATER POLO CHAMPIONSHIP|
Championship: USC 11, UCLA 10
Recap Highlights Photo Gallery
Feature: Familiar foes set to settle title
Consolation: St. Francis (N.Y.) 14, Air Force 8
Feature: St. Francis wraps up best season
Semis: USC 18, Air Force 7
Feature: Heidmous rebuilds Air Force program
Semis: UCLA 17, St. Francis (N.Y.) 3
Feature: St. Francis keeps improving
|Interactive Bracket | Printable|
“We didn’t stick to the plan [on Saturday],” Gencic said. “We opened up really bad. We got scored on in the first minute. I think we were clearly a stronger team. After the game, we said ‘this is it; we need to go. We need to make history for St. Francis.’ The last two times we went to the final four, we got fourth place. This time, we got third. It really means a lot to me because I’m a senior, and I’m finishing my college a career at a final.”
Junior Bosko Stankovic added a hat trick and sophomore Vuk Vujosevic and freshman Jacob Barashick chipped in with a pair of winners.
The Terriers dominated from the start, grabbing a 5-1 advantage after the opening period en-route to 8-3 halftime edge. The Terriers blanked Air Force by a 3-0 margin in the third period to put the game out of reach.
Senior netminder Igor Mladenovic made 16 stops and controlled the goal area.
“After [Saturday]‘s game, we were all disappointed,” Mladenovic said. “We said we have to change something. We were all concentrated; we really wanted to win. I think I have to thank my guys because they were sticking to the plan. They didn’t let any guys get any closer for any easy scores. That’s it.”
Freshman defender Liam Veazey, who added a goal, said, “I think I was really disappointed in myself [Saturday]. I came out a little bit nervous. For the most part, I didn’t play the game that I know I can play. Overall, as a team, we didn’t play the way we can play. [Sunday] was a chance to redeem ourselves. As a freshman, it’s been an amazing experience getting to this point. I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I’m from Texas where water polo players don’t get the kind of attention that players from California get from colleges, and to think that I was able to play water polo in college and to make it to the [national tournament] is amazing. Having a taste of it this year was amazing and I can’t wait to get back to it next year.”