Water Polo Reaches New Milestone

By Middlebury Campus

Author: Chelsey Thurber

Eliminating three previous champions along the way, the Middlebury Club Water Polo team pounded Wesleyan 15-7 Sunday at Bowdoin to earn its best ever season record and win the National Division III Club Championship title.

Despite holding 4 national championships between them, Trinity University, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and Wesleyan were left totally befuddled by Middlebury goalkeeper Charlie Evans ’04 and incapable of stopping the aggressive counter-attacks of Rob Hillas ’06. Hillas scored early on fast breaks in both of Saturday’s games against Trinity and RIT giving a cushion of support for Evans and the Panther defense that had been so strong all year.

Led by long-time veteran Dan Whitmore ‘03.5 and Adam Rahal ’05, Middlebury’s defense held Trinity to a meager three goals. The team’s own offensive production however was sparse until the fourth quarter when the Panthers deeper bench allowed them to outswim their opponents to break open the game and win 8-3.

RIT proved to be more resilient. Taking advantage of Middlebury’s failure to put the ball in the net on some easy chances, it erased an early deficit with strong play at the two-meter position from Dave Richardson and Josh Nauman.

But every time RIT pulled near, Middlebury’s Shon Hedges ’04 responded with forceful two-meter play of his own. A string of clutch inside goals allowed Middlebury to jump out to a five goal lead in the third quarter. Once again, RIT responded, cutting the lead to two late in the fourth quarter. With two minutes remaining and possession of the ball it seemed poised to score again when Middlebury’s Decker Deacon ’07 intercepted an RIT pass and a last minute goal sealed the 13-10 victory.

Inspired by the prospect of ending their careers with a national championship, Middlebury’s seniors lit up the scoreboard in Sunday’s final against Wesleyan to gain a 9-0 halftime lead. With the title in hand, the team was able to play all its players in the second half, already focusing on development for next year. A strong comeback by Wesleyan fell far short and the Panthers won their first national title in the team’s short five-year history.

Coach Brian Goodwin was honored for the second consecutive year as “Coach of the Tournament.” Evans was named “Most Valuable Player” and along with Whitmore, Rahal, Hedges and Hillas, was named to the all-tournament team.

Club water polo at Middlebury began only in 1999 under Coach Goodwin and the team was comprised mostly of inexperienced players. After the first long seasons filled with lopsided losses, the team progressively improved to become competitive in the New England and North Atlantic divisions of the Collegiate Water Polo Association.

Despite losing to perennial powerhouse Dartmouth and a disappointing loss to Tufts in the semifinals of the North Atlantic regional tourney, the team compiled a dominant 12-2 record along with their national championship. While five seniors will be lost to graduation, a core contingent of four starters will return next fall in the club’s effort to repeat its title.