October 10, 2018

Having Endured Tough Trip to New England, PU Men’s Water Polo Steeled for Challenges Ahead

Dustin Litvak sensed that it could be a tough trip for the Princeton University men’s water polo team when it headed to the Boston area last weekend.

“We played seven conference games in nine days. It is not ideal; it doesn’t give us a lot of time to prepare,” said Princeton head coach Dustin Litvak, who is in his first season at the helm of the program.

“I thought that loss to Harvard the previous Sunday (13-12 in OT on September 30) was emotionally draining, and then to have one day to prepare and go to probably the toughest place in the east coast to play in St. Francis-Brooklyn on Wednesday (a 12-10 loss), you are traveling with a three-to-four hour round trip. Then it is having two days to recover and prepare for three conference games and then travel. I think it took us seven hours to get to Boston on Friday.”

Once in Boston, the 12th-ranked Tigers edged MIT 8-7 before falling 9-8 to No. 7 Harvard in action on Saturday. A day later, they headed to Rhode Island where they lost 11-10 to Brown.

“Hopefully this helps us at the end of the season and makes us a little more resilient and battle-tested,” said Litvak, reflecting on the weekend which left the the Tigers at 10-6 overall.

“Of course it would have been nice to come away with a couple of more wins. We played in some really tough environments and there were a lot of learning situations. The biggest takeaway is how important every possession is and how important every second is. In a lot of these games when look at the film, it is just one or two minor things where we let our guard down or we do something that we shouldn’t and it comes back to haunt us when the game is over.”

Litvak acknowledges that there is a learning curve for the players as he instills his approach to the game.

“The guys are trying to buy into a new system and, for the most part, it is going really well,” said Litvak.

“It takes time; we have to build trust with the system that I am trying to implement. Everybody is equally as important, everyone has to buy in completely and everybody has to do their job. It is never going to be system dependent on one or two people. If one person gets in foul trouble or injured, we have plenty of guys who can step up but the other side of that is if one or two people make a mistake it effects the entire group. We have to make sure that everybody is on board.”

Princeton’s core of veterans has been receptive to Litvak. “We have great senior leadership; we made all six senior captains because those guys are absolutely crucial members of the team,” said Litvak, who is getting big offensive years Matt Payne (30 goals and 13 assists through 13 games) and Ryan Wilson (18 goals, 26 assists).

A number of younger players, including sophomores Alec Mendelsohn (19 goals, 10 assists) and Casey Conrad (13 goals, 7 assists) along with freshman Keller Maloney (15 goals, 17 assists), are also making valuable contributions.

“All across the board it has really been spread out, we are continuing to work for the balance,” said Litvak.

“It is hard to do when you are playing a lot of games because that confidence and that trust is built through the training, and this past week didn’t give us that opportunity. We are looking forward to being back in training over the next couple of weeks.”

With Princeton heading back up to Boston this weekend to compete in the Crimson Invitational from October 13-14, Litvak is looking to see that training pay off.

“This weekend was tough; we are battling through some adversity and if we have the right approach and attitude, these things will be really positive experiences for us,” said Litvak.

“We are halfway through the season, we are nowhere near where we want to be as a group. It is just another step in the journey and I think we will be a pretty dangerous team moving forward.”