Courtesy: Navy Sports
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The No. 18 Navy water polo team (6-3) jumped out to an early lead and never looked back as the Midshipmen posted an 11-7 victory over No. 20 Air Force (5-4) on Thursday evening at Lejeune Hall.
In 2009, Bruce Hopping with the Kalos Kagathos Foundation in Laguna Beach, Calif. created an award – the Freedom Vase – which he made in the hopes that Air Force and Navy would play an annual game and the winner would receive. With the win, the Mids won the Freedom Vase for the first time since 2019.
“At a service academy, beating your rivals is always a big deal,” head coach Luis Nicolao said after the game. “Tonight’s game with the amazing crowd in Lejeune Hall and celebrating with the Freedom Vase after the game will be a memory this team will always remember. I couldn’t be prouder of this team.
“We gave up a quick goal, but then our guys came out strong,” Nicolao added. “Leading 7-1 at halftime was huge. In the second half, we let them get back into it a little bit, but I am proud of the way our guys continued to battle and were able to close the door on them.”
Seven Midshipmen found the back of the net with Aiden Day and Hayden Kahn leading the way with three goals apiece. Sam Collingwood, Michael Heller, Tommy McKnew, Ivan Pang, and Henry Williams added scores in the game. Kiefer Black paced the team with three assists, while Rory Begin and Henry Williams added two helpers apiece.
At goal, senior team captain Caden Capobianco worked a complete game between the posts. He finished the game with 11 saves, allowing just seven scores. Capobianco held the potent Air Force offense to just one score in the first half, directing a defensive unit that finished the game with eight steals. Black and Kahn led the defense with two takeaways apiece.
Air Force was the first team to score, slipping the ball past the keeper just one minute into the game. Navy responded with seven goals to end the half, taking a 7-1 advantage into intermission. Day knotted the game at 1-1, while McKnew gave the Mids the lead. Heller extended the advantage to 3-1 just before the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Pang continued the scoring with a goal. Day’s second goal of the half pushed the Mids’ lead to four, while Williams and Kahn closed out the half with goals to give Navy a 7-1 lead.
In the third quarter, the Falcons came out strong with back-to-back goals, but Kahn’s second goal of the game extended the Mids’ lead back to five at 8-3. Air Force closed the quarter with two scores to trim the margin to three, but Navy countered with consecutive goals by Day and Kahn to start the fourth to double up the visitors, 10-5. Following an Air Force goal, Collingwood slammed a ball of a defender that trickled into the goal to give Navy an 11-6 lead. The Falcons scored with 27 ticks remaining on the clock to provide the final margin.
Navy returns to action Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 23-24, as the Midshipmen head to Morgantown, W.Va. for the Salem Invitational. On Saturday, the Mids will play a Mid-Atlantic Water Polo Conference (MAWPC) game against Mount St. Mary’s (12:00 p.m.) before taking on tournament-host Salem (5:15 p.m.). The Midshipmen conclude the weekend with games against McKendree (8:00 a.m.) and Gannon (3:00 p.m.) on Sunday.