The men’s water polo team capped an incredible season by beating Penn State 7-6 in the Mid-Atlantic Division Championship Finals. The win earns the squad a bid to the National Championship at Notre Dame on Nov. 19-21.
The Wildcats head to South Bend coming off their best regular season since placing second at the National Championship in 2001. The team posted 22 wins and had only four losses this fall, with key victories over Army, Columbia, Penn and Miami (OH), the team which beat them in the opening round of the National Championship last year.
Their success over the Nittany Lions in the Mid-Atlantic Championship Game paves the way for their fourth trip to Nationals in the last five years, setting up a tradition the team hopes to maintain for years to come. While this year’s squad may not have the raw talent of their 2001 counterparts, their success has been largely due to the great team chemistry and the ability of players to fill their roles. The team’s willingness to play within a game plan has given them several victories over teams with more talent. Leading the squad is captain Brad Barron. Who is the team’s best shooter and is capable of carrying the scoring.
“Brad is one of the most accurate shooters and natural scorers I have ever coached,” Dan Sharadin,Villanova’s coach, said. “Most players have favorite spots, but Brad is capable of scoring from anywhere. He can change the tempo of a game immediately and force the other teams’ defenses to react.” Another key for Villanova lies with Greg Fox, whose talent for seeing the whole pool and involving everyone in the offense has led to a balanced scoring attack.
Four individuals on the team share the load on an equal basis, making it difficult for opponents to key on one athlete. Two of the other mainstays on offense are sophomore Rob Mida and junior, Mike Gordon. Mida is the team’s center and a dominant player in his own right, capable of scoring and drawing double teams which open up shooting lanes for other players.
Gordon is one of the best drivers in the country and is the main reason the team spends so much time on the power play.
“Other teams do not have an answer for Gordon,” Sharadin said. “He is so quick for short distances, defenders just can’t guard him effectively and are forced to foul him, resulting in a power play for our team.
The key here for Villanova is that about half our scoring comes from the power play, which means Mike is one of the main reasons we have been so successful this season.” The final ingredient in the team’s performance this season has been their defense, led by all-conference standout Tom Hallett. Hallett, a sophomore from northern-California, has been the pivotal difference in the team’s finish these last two seasons.
“Tom is so dominant in the cage he makes good shooters second guess their shots, allowing us to do so much more on defense than ever before,” Sharadin said. Rounding out the squad are other seniors Jason Champion, Mike Lucarz, Brian Comber and Kevin Harty.
Champion serves as the team’s back-up goalie and has been one of the most improved players during his time at Villanova.
Comber brings terrific speed, while Harty and Lucarz are solid defenders capable of scoring as well.
How far the Wildcats go in the 16-team tournament depends on so many factors, that they are really not worrying about the outcome. With the toughest draw in the tournament, Villanova could face the first, third, fourth and eighth seeded divisions if it works out according to seed, including such powerhouse teams as Florida International, University of Michigan, University of Arizona, University of Texas and Cal Poly State University.
However, for this over-achieving group of players, that is just the way they like it.