Setting the Scene
What: Bruno Classic
When: Saturday, Sept. 2 to Sunday, Sept. 3
Where: Providence, R.I.
Tournament Central: BrownBears.com
Game Two: No. 14 Bucknell (0-0, 0-0 MAWPC) vs. No. 19 St. Francis Brooklyn (0-0, 0-0 NEC)
When: Saturday, Sept. 2 – 4 p.m.
Video: Ivy League Network
Game Three: No. 7 Pepperdine (0-0, 0-0 GCC) vs. No. 14 Bucknell (0-0, 0-0 MAWPC)
When: Sunday, Sept. 3 – 9:15 a.m.
Video: Ivy League Network
Game Four: No. 16 California Baptist (0-0, 0-0 WWPA) vs. No. 14 Bucknell (0-0, 0-0 MAWPC)
When: Sunday, Sept. 3 – 1 p.m.
Video: Ivy League Network
No. 14 Bucknell at a Glance
• The Bison are celebrating their 40th season of competition.
• Bucknell was slotted 14th in the CWPA Preseason Poll and were selected as the unanimous favorite to win the MAWPC crown.
• Bucknell finished 2016 with a 23-5 (9-1 MAWPC) record, reaching the 20-win plateau for the first time since 2007 (20-13, 5-3 CWPA Southern Division). The Bison's .821 winning percentage was their best single-season mark since they went 31-4-2 (.851) in 1980. They were ranked 11th in the CWPA’s final 2016 poll and rose as high as ninth over the course of the season.
• The Bison won the inaugural MAWPC tournament in dominating fashion, downing Connecticut College (24-4), Fordham (16-5) and No. 18 George Washington (11-5) all by six or more goals.
• Bucknell ultimately qualified for its sixth NCAA Championship at the end of the season. In the play-in game, the Bison fell to Harvard in overtime, 13-12. With 16 seconds remaining in regulation, Rade Joksimovic scored the game-tying goal to help the Bison erase a four-goal deficit in the final quarter.
• Bucknell needs to replace three of its top four scorers from a year ago in Sean Daley (27g-69a), Ratimir Babic (35g-18a) and Nate Hunter (42g-5a). The Bison return Joksimovic, who became the second All-American in program history after leading the nation with 154 goals. Joksimovic finished his freshman campaign with 184 points (154g-30a), a program-record 264 shots, 36 ejections drawn and 76 steals.
• The Bison return two of their three All-Mid Atlantic Water Polo Conference selections in Joksimovic (1st team, Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year) and Charlie Niehaus (2nd team). Niehaus, who started all 28 games in net a year ago, totaled 287 saves, the sixth-highest total in program history.
• John McBride enters his seventh season as head coach with a 104-62 record. He won his 100th career game on Nov. 5, 2016, an 11-6 victory over Wagner that helped the Bison clinch the MAWPC East Region regular-season title. He is the third Bison water polo coach to reach the 100-win plateau.
No. 5 Pacific at a Glance
• Pacific posted a 19-7 (4-1 GCC) record in 2016. The Tigers reached the GCC championship game, where they fell to then No. 8 Pepperdine, 6-5.
• Pacific, which was voted fifth in the CWPA Preseason Poll, scored 15 wins over ranked teams in 2016. The Tigers were tabbed fourth in the final CWPA poll of that season.
• The Tigers will also face Wagner, Brown and St. Francis Brooklyn at the Bruno Classic.
The Bison vs. the Tigers
• The Tigers lead the all-time series, 9-1.
• Pacific rides a six-game winning streak into Saturday's match.
• The Bison's win over the Tigers came on Sept. 1, 2007 at the Navy Labor Day Open. Bucknell outscored then No. 13 Pacific, 7-1, in the second half to cruise to a 10-5 victory.
No. 19 St. Francis Brooklyn at a Glance
• St. Francis Brooklyn finished 13-14 (5-5 NEC) in 2016.
• The Terriers, who were ranked tied for 19th with Pomona-Pitzer Colleges in the CWPA Preseason Poll, were slotted in the 20th spot in the final poll of 2016.
• The Terriers will also take on Brown, Stanford and Pacific at the Bruno Classic.
The Bison vs. the Terriers
• The Terriers lead the all-time series, 31-6, but the Bison have won two of the past three meetings.
• At last year's Bruno Classic, Bucknell downed then No. 20 St. Francis Brooklyn, 7-6, behind Rade Joksimovic's last-minute goal. The Bison outscored the Terriers, 4-0, in the second half to secure the comeback win.
No. 7 Pepperdine at a Glance
• Pepperdine went 15-12 (2-3 GCC) in 2016. The Waves, who placed fourth in the GCC regular-season standings, captured the inaugural tournament title by knocking off then No. 19 UC Irvine, then No. 4 UC Santa Barbara and then No. 5 Pacific.
• Pepperdine was ranked seventh in the CWPA Preseason Poll, where it finished the 2016 campaign.
• The Waves will also square off against MIT, Harvard and Brown at the Bruno Classic. The Waves will play their Saturday games against MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, Mass.
The Bison vs. the Waves
• The Waves lead the all-time series, 7-0.
• Sunday's meeting will be Bucknell and Pepperdine's first since the 2011 Santa Clara Rodeo.
No. 16 California Baptist at a Glance
• Like Bucknell, California Baptist won 20 games in 2016, compiling a 22-11 (4-3 WWPA) mark.
• California Baptist, which was slotted 16th in the CWPA Preseason Poll, wrapped up the 2016 season in a tie for 15th with George Washington.
• The Lancers will also play Wagner, McKendree and Brown at the Bruno Classic.
The Bison vs. the Lancers
• The Lancers lead the all-time series, 7-3, but the Bison won two of the past three games, including their 2015 meeting at the Santa Clara Rodeo by an 11-3 margin.
• Six of their 10 games were decided by two or fewer goals.
Expectations are high for the Bucknell men's water polo team entering the 2017 campaign, the 40th in program history. A year ago, the Bison rolled to a 23-5 record, their first 20-win season since 2007 and their best winning percentage since 1980. And head coach John McBride expects his team to build off of that magical season.
"It's a new team every year," McBride said. "Last year, they played really well as team, but there were a lot of upperclassmen who graduated. So it's a whole new team, and we'll work to repeat or do better than we did a year ago."
While Bucknell will need to replace three of its top four scorers, they return All-American Rade Joksimovic, who totaled a staggering 184 points (154g-30a) as a freshman.
"Rade is a tremendous player," McBride said. "He's obviously a force from the right side, and he makes the most of his opportunities. But he's one of a team of 18 guys. He's able to contribute because everybody else does their job."
McBride believes Jeff Hagen, who rounded out the team's top five in points (47) and finished third in goals (38) a year ago, will take on an even larger role in the absence of Sean Daley, Ratimir Babic and Nate Hunter. Marko Djordjevic, Cooper Dolan, Tommy Stupp and Logan Schofield are also expected to be contributors.
Bucknell should be strong defensively thanks to goalkeeper Charlie Niehaus, who enters 2017 with a streak of 53-consecutive starts. McBride praised Niehaus's ability to be in the right place to make easy saves and help the team transition into offense by quickly outletting the ball.
"Charlie has been a defensive force for us in the cage," McBride said. "I expect his senior year to be his best year. He's an excellent goalie, and he's a vocal leader on the team. He wants to win, and he takes a lot of pride in being the anchor of the defense and being the guy who can be the hero of the game."
A year ago, the Bison ran out to an 11-1 start, their best since 1980. While McBride said he'd love to do that again, he noted their non-conference schedule is more challenging this year, with the additions of perennial powers like UCLA (Sept. 9 in Princeton, N.J.) and Stanford (Oct. 20 in Stanford, Calif.).
"We scheduled a lot of top-10 teams to challenge our young team and help us get better for the end of the season," McBride said. "That's the only part of the season that matters. We have to play against the best if we want to be the best."
The Bison were the best in the new Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Association in 2016, and they were unanimously chosen to repeat in the CWPA Preseason Poll. The ultimate goal is to return to the NCAA Championships, where Bucknell suffered a heartbreaking 13-12 overtime loss to Harvard in the play-in game.
"Our goal is to make the NCAA Championships," McBride said. "And, to do that, we'll have to have younger guys step up and our more experienced guys to take the lead and continue to grow and develop."