PRINCETON, N.J. “”mdash; Coach Adam Wright may not have leapt into the pool at the conclusion of Sunday’s championship ““ he left that customary act to his USC counterpart Jovan Vavic ““ but he certainly made a significant splash in his first season at the helm of the UCLA men’s water polo program.

In just his second year back at the school he attended after a playing career in Europe, Wright guided an underdog UCLA squad to within a goal of a national championship. It was the Bruins’ first title-game appearance since their win over Stanford in 2004, and in leading the way there, Wright has led the program back to national prominence.

“I told the guys after the game, I thanked them for respecting me and all the changes,” Wright said. “Coming into the year, I thought we were definitely behind Stanford, Cal and ‘SC, but I thought that if we got on the same page, and got better defensively, I thought we’d always have a chance.”

The future is bright for the young Bruins, who were at times seemingly overwhelmed by the magnitude of the event and by the experience of senior-laden USC in the final game.

UCLA will lose its captain, Scott Davidson, and its workhorse goalkeeper Chay Lapin, as well as a number of other key contributors, such as Cole Consani and Scott Swanson. But an impressive portion of this year’s group will return, including what was widely considered the nation’s top recruiting class.

Now, with a championship-game run under their Speedos, UCLA will boast crucial experience to supplement their talent, a trait that is prevalent among the country’s elite teams.

“This is an experience that I’ll never forget,” junior attacker Ben Hohl said. “It will definitely add fuel to the fire. Now we know that you’ve got to put in even more.”

The Bruins can look to their crosstown rivals for inspiration: As freshmen and sophomores, this year’s senior class of Trojans lost twice in the championship game before breaking through in their final two seasons.

“I think that everything we did today was from the two championships we lost,” USC senior J.W. Krumpholz said. “It stung, and those two losses made these last two (wins) even more special.”

While USC will lose standout seniors Jordan Thompson, Krumpholz and Matt Sagehorn, among others, and while Stanford graduates the dynamic Wigo twins and stout goalkeeper Jimmie Sandman, UCLA will return the likes of Ben Hohl, Cullen Hennessy and Jacob Murphy.

The restoration of the program was not an easy one. Wright expounded time and again about the importance of a late-season training regimen that was as rigorous and exhausting physically as it was beneficial mentally and emotionally.

“Now our foundation is set,” Wright said. “Does that mean that next year it’s going to be gravy? No way, back to ground zero. I firmly believe, and I thanked the older guys, that they put this program back where it should be. And that’s the chance to win the national championship.”