Hale the Victors: No. 18 Princeton Upsets No. 12 Navy 5-4 for 2009 Men's Eastern Title
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Matt Hale (Jr., Atherton, Calif.) recorded a hat-trick to account for over half his team's scoring as the No. 18-ranked Princeton University Tigers held on for a 5-4 victory over No. 12 Navy to capture the 2009 Men's Eastern Championship and the CWPA's automatic berth in the NCAA Championship. Princeton will host the NCAA Championship on December 5-6.
In a game between the top two teams from the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA) Southern Division, Princeton returned a favor from last year's Eastern Championship when the No. 3 seed Midshipmen knocked off the No. 1 seed and Southern Division Champion Tigers 9-6 at home in Annapolis, Maryland.
This year, Princeton avenged the loss by doing the same thing to Navy as the No. 3 seed Tigers upended the No. 1 seed and Southern Division Champion Midshipmen by a single goal.
The loss continues a pattern of frustration for the top team in the Eastern Championship field over the last decade as since the 2000 season, the No. 1 seed has won only three titles: Navy (2007), Princeton (2004) and Queens College (2002).
For Princeton, the victory marks the program's third Eastern Championship in six title games following victories in 2004 (vs. St. Francis College) and 1992 (vs. Slippery Rock University) and losses in 2003 (vs. Navy), 2006 (vs. Navy) and 2008 (vs. Navy), while the loss marks nine-time titleist Navy's fifth defeat in the Eastern title game
A key to the game was Princeton's ability to field block as the Tigers recorded 10 stops on shots before they reached goalie Mike Merlone (Jr., Atherton, Calif./The Menlo School), while Merlone chipped in seven saves and the posts added two more in the defensive effort.
Princeton wasted no time in taking the lead as Hale split the Midshipmen defense blockade in front of the cage for a score 51 seconds into the first period. Jeff Cole (Jr., Santa Barbara, Calif./Santa Barbara) contributed another goal with 4:26 left in the period as the Tigers jumped out to a 2-0 lead through eight mintues of play.
The teams traded goals in the second period with Stevie Ray (So., Baytown, Texas/Ross S. Sterling) cutting into the Tigers' lead with a goal to make it 2-1, but Hale countered with a five-meter penalty shot at 3:56 to make it 3-1 at halftime.
Navy pulled even and took the lead to open the third period as Kyle Wertz (So., San Diego, Calif./Westlake) scored on the Mids only man-up opportunity of the afternoon at 6:36 before Luke Baldwin (Jr., La Grange, Ill./Fenwick) and Conor Handley (So., Naperville, Ill./Naperville North) lit up the scoreboard with goals at 4:52 and 4:06, respectively, to give the Midshipmen a 4-3 lead.
Hale responded for Princeton as he deked his defender and ripped a past the outstretched arms of Navy goalie Brett Rajchel (Sr., Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park) on a man-up opportunity with 2:14 remaining in the period to even the scoring at 4-4.
The tie lasted for 2:12 before Chris Cottrell (So., Newport Beach, Calif./Corona del Mar) registered the biggest goal of his young career with two seconds left in the period for the game-winning score.
Unlike the third period in which five goals were posted, the fourth period was defense oriented as the Tigers field blocked four shots and Navy stymied Princeton's attempts at padding its lead. Due to both squads defensive pressure and stands in front of their cages, neither program could change the scoreboard making Cottrell's marker stand-up as the difference maker in the 2009 Collegiate Water Polo Association Varsity Season.
Overall, a key to the game was Princeton's ability to draw ejections as the Tigers held an 8-to-1 advantage in ejections drawn and cashed in on two of their chances for a potential game-changing effect.
Between the pipes, Merlone was rock steady down the stretch grabbing three steals, including a gutsy play late in the game in which he left his goalmouth to swipe the ball during a one-on-one breakaway against an offensive player to preserve the Tigers lead and title hopes.
For Navy, four different players scored while Rajechel made eight saves.
The loss snaps a three-year Eastern winning streak by the Mids as Navy previously captured the 2006, 2007 and 2008 titles. If Navy had won this year, the Midshipmen would have joined Bucknell University (1977-80) and the Unviersity of Massachusetts (1993-96) as the only programs in league history to capture four consecutive Eastern titles.
Following the title game, Princeton's Douglas Wigley (Sr., Portola Valley, Calif./Sacred Heart) and Luis Nicoalo were recognized as the Most Valuable Player and Coach of the Tournament to lead the All-Tournament Team. Fordham University's Ali Arat (Gr., Istanbul, Turkey/Sisli Terakki Secondary/Koc University) was honored with the tournament's Rookie Award, an honor awarded to a player competing in his first Eastern Championship.
|No. 18 Princeton University||2||1||2||0||--||5|
|No. 12 United States Naval Academy||0||1||3||0||--||4|
Navy Goals: Luke Baldwin; Conor Handley; Stevie Ray; Kyle Wertz
Princeton Goals: Matt Hale (3); Chris Cottrell; Jeff Cole
Saves: Navy - Brett Rajchel (8) ; Princeton - Mike Merlone (7)
Exclusions: Navy - 8 ; Princeton - 1
Advantage Opportunities: Navy - 1-for-1 ; Princeton - 2-for-8
Sprints: Navy - 0-for-4 ; Princeton- 4-for-4
Referees: Mark Koganov, Alex Stankevitch
2009 Eastern Champions - Princeton University
Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao celebrates with his team