Water Polo Closes Out Historic Season
Issue   |   Wed, 10/29/2014 - 00:57

Forty years ago, a former high school All-American from St. Louis landed at Amherst and, among the preppy New England crowd, felt like a fish out of water. Taking matters into his own hands, he created the Amherst water polo team.Thirty-five years ago, the first female joined the team to begin the program’s storied tradition of being the only competitive coed club sports team at Amherst. Thirty years ago, an inside joke based on Burgess Meredith ’31’s character from the Adam West Batman TV show led to a much needed less racist and more aquatic mascot for the team: the Yo-Ho Penguin. In this year of anniversaries, the Penguins brought home a championship against a rival Amherst has long waited to defeat on the final stage.

This past weekend, Amherst traveled to Brunswick, Maine to attend a water polo tournament at Bowdoin College. The tournament was the North Atlantic Conference Championships and the Yo-Hos were the No. 2 seed in the the southern division. Amherst would face Northeastern and Bowdoin in the bracket play, with winner of this round robin play eventually earning a coveted spot in the championship game.

Amherst faced Northeastern, the top overall seeded team in the tournament, in the first their first match of the tournament. After falling behind early 3-1 in the first quarter, the Yo-Hos would tie the score 5-5 at halftime. Another period of play saw the teams still deadlocked at eight apiece. Despite the rather dirty play from Northeastern (who attempted to take out Alex “Lefty” Dreisbach with a shot to the nose) and playing against a team much larger and deeper than their own, Amherst would take the lead towards the end of the final quarter 11-9 and would hold on for a 11-10 victory over the Huskies. Connor Sholtis ‘15 led Amherst scorers with three goals each and senior captain Anders “Stonewall” Lindgren played a phenomenal game in the goal. Amherst then faced Bowdoin next in the Battle of the Arctic. The Penguins left the Polar Bears out in the cold, taking a 7-0 lead midway through the third quarter en route to a 10-3 sinking of Bowdoin.

With a 2-0 record in bracket play, Amherst faced its rival, the Jumbos of Tufts, in the championship game. Barring a freak loss to Williams this year, Tufts has been the only team Amherst has lost to since 2010, the most bitter losses coming in the championship games from 2010 (which ended in triple overtime) and 2013. Despite Chris van den Berg’s strong warning that Amherst needed to come out strong against the Jumbos, Amherst fell behind 5-2 in the second quarter. Amherst would end the quarter with a final scoring flurry to tie it up 5-5 at halftime. However, the swimming prowess of Tufts would carry them to a quick 8-5 lead in the third quarter that saw Amherst confused and seemingly helpless in preventing the Jumbos from charging down the pool on transition play. A tip-in goal from Chris “The Professor” van den Berg stopped the bleeding at the end of the quarter, with Amherst down 8-6.

During the final break of play before the fourth quarter, Anders Lindgren gave an impassioned speech to the team and broke down the strategy that would carry the Yo-Hos to victory. Staring down a two-goal deficit and a much larger bench on the Tufts side, the Amherst starting six dug deep and began the final seven minutes of the match. Connor Sholtis would score to halve the margin, but the Jumbos would quickly respond with a counter goal to lead 9-7. Following a Tufts ejection and subsequent power-play, Sholtis would score again to bring the score to 9-8. After a defensive stop, junior Daniel Nussbaum would score to tie the game at 9-9. Sholtis would score yet again to take the lead, only for Tufts to score within six seconds on a power-play of their own and with another goal to retake the lead 11-10. In perhaps the most clutch play of the game, Amherst would draw an ejection on a Tufts player and get a quick pass to a wide open Pr. Chris van den Berg who fired a shot past a stunned Tufts goalie, tying the game at 11-11. After a blocked shot and breakaway counter, Connor Sholtis sped down the pool to score his fourth goal of the final quarter and the eventual game-winner. After an intense final minute that saw Tufts attempt a final Hail Mary shot, that was snuffed by goalie Anders Lindgren, the Amherst team celebrated their come-from-behind 12-11 win over their Jumbo rivals by eating cookies on the Bowdoin pool deck.Sholtis led all scorers with five goals.

The championship is the third for the Yo-Hos in five years, who have competed in the championship game the last five years in a row.

Junior Taylor Wilson commented on the season saying: There were lots of moments that tested our resolve, but we really pulled together as a team in the last few games of the season.” Despite graduating seven seniors last year, the team had full confidence in itself to compete witin a stacked conference that includes UMass and the United States Coast Guard Academy.

As Chris van den Berg remarked at the end of the tournament, while Amherst did not have the best collection of players, it was the best team in the whole conference. Ultimately it was the team’s defense and passing ability that allowed Amherst to defeat its foes. Certain individual performances deserve recognition: the counter-play of Connor Sholtis, the hole-set play and steals of junior Daniel Nussbaum, the constant threat of left-handed cannon Alex Dreisbach ’17, the point play and set defense of first-year Nathan Ives, the turn-around of Rainer Lempert ’15 who received no playing time during the Williams tournament but put in hours of work after practice to become a rotation player, and the goal-tending of captain Anders Lindgren. The Yo-Ho Penguins finish the season 9-2 and despite graduating five seniors, the team looks to build on the continued success of the Amherst program for years to come.

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