With over 40 different club sports, Columbia has always been rightfully proud of its non-professional teams’ competiveness and enthusiasm. Most recently, the Columbia Men’s Water Polo Club participated in the New York Division Championship on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Facing eight other competitive teams in the tournament, the Lions battled through fierce adversity and clinched first place for the second consecutive year.
Columbia entered the competition seeded first. In order to seize the championship, the Lions had to survive three intense rounds of matches. After a bye in round one, the Light Blue bulldozed No. 8 seed Binghamton 23-3, garnering 10 goals in the first quarter. Prior to that, Binghamton had advanced to round two by edging No. 9 seed Colgate 10-7.
In the second contest, the squad vanquished its neighbor New York University in a slightly more arduous match. Fourth seed NYU walloped fifth seed Syracuse in its first match 19-6 before falling to Columbia 21-9. The Lions hit a few rough patches out of the starting gate and only managed to grab a narrow two-point lead in the first quarter. However, by the end of the second quarter, Columbia had extended its lead to almost ten goals.
The story remained the same throughout the entire tournament for Columbia, as it ran over the opposition with tenacious defense and overwhelming offense.
“Our main focus was defense, and on offense our main focus was to have a driving offense to keep the defense moving in order to create an opening,” club treasurer Daniel Kirel said.
The Light Blue’s big win over NYU gave the squad the momentum it needed to play No. 2 seed Army. Prior to the championship game against Columbia, Army had defeated No. 6 seed Hamilton 13-9 in its first contest and Cornell 10-9 in its second.
“This was going to either be the game-maker or the game-breaker,” explained Kirel. “We had beaten them [Army] by only one goal during the season so this was the toughest game of the tournament.”
Army established itself as ready and able to challenge the No. 1 seeded Lions in the championship game. The season’s biggest rivalry culminated in a tight match, with the two teams trading goals for the first two quarters. Nevertheless, Columbia snatched a slim lead in the third that it wouldn’t relinquish. The Light Blue clinched the championship title by a final score of 13-6.
“We were never behind on the scoreboard at any point in the game so that gave us a lot of confidence,” Kirel said. “We went into the tournament with a winning mentality, as the first seed of any tournament should, gave it our best and, much to our fortune, our best was enough.”
Besides captain Chris Vola and head coach Igor Samardzija, a strong core of players carried the Lions to a first-place finish. Most notable was William Reid who was named New York Division Player of the Week after collecting 17 goals, six assists, and three steals in the Lions’ three matches. He scored four goals against Binghamton, seven against NYU, and six in the final round with Army. Other team standouts included Kai Golden who scored six goals, Abiel Garcia, and star goalie Alexandre Wright.
With the first-place finish, Columbia advances to the National Collegiate Club Championship tournament at the University of Florida on Nov. 13-15. However, the Lions know they have their work cut out for them in order to succeed at nationals.
“Our main preparation for nationals is to build up endurance,” Kirel said. “The games will be played in a 30-meter pool instead of a 25-yard pool and the level at nationals will be really competitive.”
Columbia will have to be aggressive from the get-go in this tournament since the team will be facing Florida International University, which ranks fourth nationwide amongst collegiate polo clubs.