Men’s club water polo earns second place at national championship tournament

Hazen Breen, '18, captain of the Tufts Club Water Polo team, shoots the ball in the first game of the tournament against Hamilton on Oct. 28. (Courtesy Collegiate Water Polo Association)

In its first season in the more competitive New England Division, men’s club water polo finished with great success. At the Div. III National Club Championship hosted by Middlebury College on Oct. 28 and 29, Tufts placed second for the team’s best finish in recent years.

Tufts club water polo’s dominance in recent seasons has made its presence increasingly well-known on campus. Although the team has not won the national tournament since 2009, they have qualified every year except 2011 and consistently finished in the top five.

As a club sport, the water polo roster is what senior co-captain goalie Hans Tercek describes as a “mixed bag.” The team consists of members who have played the sport their entire lives as well as those who had never played before coming to Tufts.

“Of our starting six, one or two players picked up the sport when they came to Tufts,” Tercek said.

The dynamic of the team is slightly different from that of a varsity sport. Most notably, the team captains fill the position of coaches.

“As a captain, I am pretty much the coach along with Hans [Tercek],” senior co-captain Hazen Breen said. “Every week we figure out what we want to work on. When we are coming off a tournament we talk specifically about mistakes we have made and what we want to improve. We create an overall plan for the week and a plan for every individual day.”

Though led by the two captains, each member of the team plays some sort of leadership role.

“It is a collaborative approach to coaching the team and becoming better,” Tercek said.

The season begins when players arrive back on campus in early September and culminates with the national tournament, typically held in late October. In season, the team practices five nights per week for roughly two hours. There are three weekend-long tournaments attended by all teams in the division that constitute regular season play. This year, Tufts traveled to Middlebury, Yale and BU for these tournaments. Teams earn a spot and ranking in the national tournament based on their regular season record and play.

This year, Tercek and Breen made a concerted effort to switch divisions for their final season in hopes of better preparing the team for nationals with higher level regular season play.

“Historically, at nationals we have lost our first game in a major upset, giving up a 6 or 7 goal lead by the second half,” Tercek said. “From there we could really only finish fifth or higher. It was a major sticking point for us. We wanted to figure out how we could push past that first game and come more prepared for nationals and compete against these higher level teams.”

Prior to 2017, the Jumbos competed in the North Atlantic Division. This division consisted of primarily Div. III teams, including fellow NESCAC members Bates, Bowdoin and Colby. In the Atlantic Division, Tufts faced few challenges during the regular season, winning most of their games by double-digit margins and heading into the national tournament with a nearly, if not perfect record.

“There has been a lot of talk during my four years of switching leagues,” Breen said. “[Hans and I] decided to bump up to the New England Division. The goal was to play harder competition in the regular season so that we would be better prepared for the postseason.”

This season in the New England Division, Tufts faced a number of Div. I powerhouses, including BU, BC, Yale and Dartmouth. The Jumbos held their own in this competitive division, finishing fifth of eight teams with a record of 4–7. Most importantly, they were markedly better prepared for the level of play they would see at nationals.

“We definitely had harder games and a couple more losses than we had in the past,” Breen explained. “But we played against really good teams and saw a ton of improvement throughout the year.”

Both captains attribute the higher level of competition in the regular season to their success at nationals this year.

“This year we were used to playing against teams that could give us a real challenge,” Breen said. “When we faced those teams in the postseason we were able to not back down and really face them strongly.”

Tufts entered the Div. III National Collegiate Club Championship as the sixth seed. In their first round game on Oct. 28, Tufts defeated third-seeded Hamilton 17–9. Later that same day, against second-seed Carnegie Mellon, Tufts came away with a 12–8 victory to advance to the championship match.

In the final on Oct. 29, Tufts faced the top-seeded Washington University in St. Louis, a highly skilled team who Tercek said “outclassed” Tufts. Despite losing 17–7 to the Bears and falling short of their ultimate goal of a national championship, the tournament and season as a whole were overwhelming successes for the Jumbos.

With so much success in recent years, men’s club water polo does not look to be slowing down any time soon. Though Breen and Tercek will be graduating in the spring, they’ve left behind a solid legacy for the coming years.