Navy Water Polo Aims For 10th Eastern Title This Weekend at Bucknell

Kyle Wertz
Kyle Wertz

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The 18th-ranked Navy water polo team heads to Bucknell University this weekend in search of its 10th CWPA Eastern Championship and subsequent NCAA Tournament berth. The Mids enter the weekend with a 23-6 overall record and are the tournament's fifth seed after finishing third in the CWPA Southern Division Tournament two weeks ago.

The Mids open play on Friday against Brown University at 1:00 pm in Lewisburg, Pa. Should the Mids advance, Navy will likely play No. 1 overall seed Princeton University on Saturday. The championship and placing games will be played on Sunday.

"I think we are excited and ready to go after a couple of good weeks of practice," said Navy head coach Mike Schofield. "We can't wait to get started. This is what you play for and we are going to put it all out there and give our best effort."

The Mids won the CWPA Southern Division regular-season championship, but slipped to third in the tournament after being upset by Bucknell, 13-12, in the CWPA Southern Championship semifinals. The Mids responded by blasting Johns Hopkins in the consolation round, 13-4, but the Bucknell loss dropped Navy to the fifth overall seed for this weekend's tournament.

Schofield, however, says all eight teams can win this weekend's championship.

"I think you can make a case for any of the eight teams to win it all this weekend," said Schofield. "There have been a ton of close games all season long and we will certainly go in ourselves as an underdog. St. Francis (N.Y.) has not lost an East Coast game this year, but we feel we are as good as anyone else in the tournament. There has been a lot of parity this year."

Navy enters the weekend having won nine of its last 10 games with five of the six losses this year coming against ranked foes. Despite the 23 wins overall, Schofield still feels the team has not peaked.

"We haven't peaked yet, and that's the plan this weekend," said Schofield. "We just need to play hard and play smart. When we do that, we are a pretty good team."

Leading the Navy offense is senior Luke Baldwin. He has scored 79 points on 51 goals and 28 assists to lead the team in all three categories. He enters the weekend needing just five goals for 100 in his career. Junior Conor Handley follows with 59 points (41 g, 18 a) needing six points for 100 in his career. Classmate Stevie Ray has 48 points (40 g, 8 a) and seven other players have scored at least 19 points.

Anthony Gutierrez has played 25 games in goal, registering 164 saves for a .529 save percentage.

Navy leads all Eastern schools with nine CWPA Championships, having won titles in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 2000, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2008. Navy owns a 62-22 (.738) all-time record in 28 previous Eastern championship appearances. The nine titles are two more than Massachusetts' seven and four more than Bucknell's five.

Navy has won 11 of its last 12 games in the tournament, falling to Princeton, 5-4, in last year's finals which snapped a three-year run of Navy winning the Eastern title. The Midshipmen's last four losses in the tournament, dating back to 2004, have been by one goal each.

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