With just a week to go before their season officially begins at the Princeton Invitational, the UCLA men’s water polo team faced off against Long Beach State and UC Irvine in an exhibition on Sept. 5.

For new coach Adam Wright, the day represented a crucial opportunity for evaluating the young players competing for playing time, and a chance to get his feet wet as a collegiate head coach.

“It was great to get a chance to go out there and be the leader,” Wright said. “Dealing with substitutions, arguing with officials, being that vocal presence ““ that’s all stuff I got to do for really the first time with this group of guys.”

The scrimmage, held at UC Irvine, featured the three schools playing in a round-robin format, with each team playing a pair of three-quarter games against each of the other two teams.

With the Bruins boasting its largest class of incoming freshmen ever, the games proved valuable to the coaching staff keeping an eye out for those who merit playing time in the future.

“One of the important aspects of this scrimmage was the competition element within our own team,” Wright said. “We have a lot of production to replace, and we have plenty of talented guys who went out there and tried to make an impression.”

In addition to sorting out key personnel issues, the Bruins used the tune-up to address strategy as well as some crucial X’s and O’s. Having long been a defense-oriented squad under former coach Adam Krikorian, nothing appears to have changed for UCLA under their new captain.

“We weren’t too concerned with the offensive side of the ball yet,” Wright said. “Instead we’re focused on strengthening the defense, and working in particular on our five-man defense and developing a successful counterattack.”

While dealing with internal issues tended to be the flavor of the day, the schools also got a chance to get early glimpses at who will presumably be some of their top opponents in the coming season. All three teams participating in the scrimmage have been ranked in the top 10 in the Collegiate Water Polo Association national preseason rankings, with UCLA coming in at No. 3, and UC Irvine and Long Beach St. slotted at No. 6 and 8, respectively.

The Bruins begin the 2009 season September 11 against Princeton at the Tigers’ tournament in New Jersey.