LEWISBURG, Pa. – Charlie Niehaus recorded 15 saves, Rade Joksimovic scored four goals and Sean Daley posted five assists as the No. 12 Bucknell men’s water polo team defeated No. 18 George Washington 11-5 Sunday afternoon in the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference Championship title game, earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Championship.
In a matchup of the top two seeds in the eight-team field, it was the top-seeded Bison who prevailed. They will be making their first NCAA appearance since 1985, and it will be just the sixth NCAA trip for Bucknell overall, which also advanced to the national tournament in 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980. The seven-team NCAA bracket is announced Sunday night with the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference champion likely heading for a play-in game.
Bucknell won its ninth consecutive game as it completed a 3-0 weekend where it outscored its opponents 51-14. The Bison are now 23-4 on the season, marking their most wins since going 25-9 in 1985. Sunday’s victory was their sixth against a ranked for this year.
Joksimovic, who totaled 24 goals on the weekend, was named both the Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the tournament. He and Niehaus were named First Team All-Tournament, while Jeff Hagen was named Second Team All-Tournament.
Bucknell’s defense was strong on Sunday. The Bison posted 12 steals – including five by Joksimovic – in front of Niehaus, who now has 276 saves this year to rank seventh on the program’s single-season list. George Washington (15-11) was held without a goal from early in the second quarter to early in the fourth quarter, a span of 17:34. Bucknell went from a one-goal deficit (3-2) to a 9-3 advantage during that stretch.
During that 7-0 run, the Bison netted three six-on-five goals and Joksimovic converted a penalty shot.
Bucknell, which improved to 51-15 all-time against George Washington, including 2-1 this year, used the entirety of the shot clock on most possessions in the fourth quarter as it led by six goals entering the period. The Colonials drew no closer than four goals (9-5) during the fourth quarter.
Nate Hunter added two goals toward the offensive tally for the Bison. He also drew five ejections, while Hagen drew two and Joksimovic three.
Five different George Washington players scored one goal apiece. Four Colonials ended the game with two ejections.
GEO. WASH. 2 1 0 2 -5
BUCKNELL 2 4 3 2 -11
Goals: Joksimovic (4), Hunter (2), Stupp, Dolan, Daley, Hagen, Babic.
Assists: Daley (5), Babic.
Ejections Drawn: Hunter (5), Joksimovic (3), Hagen (2).
Steals: Joksimovic (5), Daley (3), Djordjevic (2), Dolan, Hagen.
Saves: Niehaus (15 svs., 5 ga., 32:00 min.).
Sprints: Joksimovic (1-2), Babic (0-1), Stupp (0-1).
Bucknell Record: 23-4.