Waterpolo Loses in Nail-Biter

The Andover Boys’ Water Polo team traveled to Interschols last Saturday with the league championship in sight, looking for a rematch with long-time rival Exeter. The team’s dominating performance over the course of the season was extraordinary and quite surprising. The team ultimately succeeded in coming together with superb chemistry and Senior leadership. Everything was on the line last Saturday, and the Blue fought their hearts out the whole day. But in end it was not quite enough, as the Exeter boys pulled away with yet another league championship. With a bye leading into the first round of Interschols, Andover’s first game was against Suffield in the semifinal round. With Andover’s minds and strategies primarily focused on Exeter, the boys overlooked the tough Suffield squad and struggled in the first half of the game. Midway through the third quarter, Andover was down 6-2. Senior Andrew Faulker ’07 suddenly took charge with a perimeter goal, and Captain Howie Kalter ‘07 followed with two more, giving Andover the boost it needed. The Andover defense came alive in the fourth quarter, completely shutting down the Suffield offense, while Kalter put up four consecutive goals from the center forward position. In the end, Andover came out on top, with a final score of 9-7 with 7 goals from offensive all-star Kalter. After a quick break, Andover took the pool again to face off against Exeter for the New England League Championship. Although Exeter has dominated the league for the last thirty years, and the Andover team was seeking only its second victory ever against the “Big Red Machine,” the squad had high hopes for beating Exeter. Andover had a strong game plan and was motivated by their overtime loss to the team just 10 days earlier. 31 seconds into the game, Kalter scored and gave Andover the early lead. Last year’s New England water polo MVP, John Preis then scored three unanswered goals of his own within two minutes. Not to be undone, Kalter scored three more and gave his team the 4-3 lead at the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, both teams played spectacular defense. Exeter effectively overpowered Kalter at the center forward position, limiting his perimeter shooting. With three minutes left in the half, Andrew Faulker ’07 broke the stalemate and put Andover up by two. Exeter Co-Captain Eric Taylor quickly responded, followed by goals from Andover’s Ryan Ferguson ’07 and Kalter. By the sound of the whistle, Andover had an encouraging two-goal lead over the Big Red, 7-5. The third quarter was marked by smart defensive play from both Kevin Zhai ’08 and Brendan Deveney ’09, who effectively controlled the ball on the perimeter. Rush Martin ’07 also created numerous offensive opportunities by playing at the center forward position. The Exeter offense then suddenly came to life and scored three quick goals. Ferguson countered with another explosive goal, but Andover’s defense could simply not stop Exeter, and the Big Red went on top 9-8 by the end of the quarter. In the final quarter of play, Andover knew it needed to play smart and aggressive water polo. With five minutes left to play, Howie Kalter scored his sixth goal of the game to tie the score, and Ferguson continued to have a break-out game with another score with only 2:55 left. But Exeter did not give up easily, as they quickly tied the score with 2:36 left in the game. With the tied scored 10-10 and the final seconds ticking away, both sides had opportunities to score the winning goal, but neither converted. Regulation ended, and the game moved into overtime. With emotional and physical exhaustion setting in, Andover struggled to keep up with Exeter during overtime. Scott McColl ’07 drew first blood, put Exeter put up three unanswered goals and won the New England League Championship 13-11. At the end of the game, Ryan Ferguson and Howie Kalter were both named to the All-Tournament Team, and William Faulkner ’09 was recognized as the tournament’s outstanding goalkeeper. While understandably disappointed with the result of the game, Andover recognized the accomplishment of many of its season goals, particularly playing its best water polo and playing with the same smarts, skills and spirit regardless of the score. The team’s returning plays look forward to another successful season next fall, with young talent and team leadership.