The Gannon University men’s water polo team saw its best regular season in program history come to an unexpected end Sunday as the Knights finished third at the Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference (MAWPC) West Tournament at the Prep-Villa Events Center in Erie.
The West side of the conference sends only the regional tournament winner to the Bronx, N.Y., to play in the MAWPC Championship against the East representative.
So, the Knights finished their record-setting campaign with a 20-1 mark.
Gannon coach Sean Morphy spoke on the importance of developing the right mindset entering a tournament with such an unforgiving format.
“It’s tough to prepare for a tournament where you have to win every game,” Morphy said.
“You don’t know which opponents you will be facing so you game plan as best you can and hope the team is ready and has the mindset to take on whoever they come across.”
Gannon dropped its opening game of the tournament – and its first game of the season after 19 straight wins – Saturday to McKendree, 12-9, in a physical battle.
That halted the Knights’ chances at an overall Mid-Atlantic Conference championship and only allowed for at best a third-place finish.
In the third-place game the following day, senior MAWPC-West MVP Brett Rehrer broke the all-time assist record while Gannon finished its season sweep of Mercyhurst University in dominating fashion, 14-4.
On Saturday, McKendree built a 7-5 halftime edge and maintained a healthy margin by scoring the first three goals of the third quarter.
That kept the Knights from mounting a comeback.
Tom Squeglia scored a goal with 3 minutes, 55 seconds left in the third, but the Bearcats scored the final two goals of the third frame to cap a 6-1 scoring run that began late in the second quarter.
Gannon scored three of the final four goals, but it was not enough.
An 11-4 lopsided advantage in exclusion penalties for McKendree was not used well to the Knights’ benefit as they only converted on one power play, but were 2-for-2 in five-meter penalty shots.
Gannon’s worst enemy on the evening was the goalpost as the majority of their 39 shots connected with the post.
On Sunday, Gannon got back to its winning ways, handling Mercyhurst easily on its way to a third-place finish.
Mercyhurst’s four goals were the fewest the Knights allowed all season.
Morphy, who coached his final game at Gannon Sunday, reflected on his final senior class, which was the most successful in school history.
“The senior class has been an absolute class act,” he said, “and has been the best kids a coach could ask for.”