The UCLA men’s water polo team faces tough competition as the SoCal Tournament comes to Westwood
The last two matchups between UCLA and USC have been nothing but bitter for the Bruins.
As if the 7-6 loss in the 2009 NCAA Championship wasn’t disappointing enough, a completely different USC team that lost eight players over the summer stunned UCLA in the final of the NorCal Tournament on Sept. 19.
The Bruins gave up eight goals in three quarters before clawing their way back in the game against the Trojans, but still fell 11-10. That didn’t cut it for coach Adam Wright, who has since made defense the priority in practice.
Junior Joel Dennerley(pictured) returns in goal for USC, and the Trojans also boast a young star in freshman driver Nikola Vavic, son of USC head coach Jovan Vavic.
A team with national championship aspirations takes any loss hard, just like UCLA did after losing to USC in the finals of the NorCal Tournament.
There, it was the defense that let the team down. UCLA gave up nine goals in the semifinals win against Stanford and 11 in the loss to USC.
Defense wins championships, and the Bruins made defense the focus in practices since returning from the tournament, knowing that giving up 20 goals in two games won’t win them games in the cutthroat MPSF.
On the other hand, scoring comes easy for UCLA. Led by a bevy of talented attackers, including senior Ben Hohl and redshirt junior Cullen Hennessy (pictured), the team hasn’t scored less than 10 goals in any of its six games this year. Freshman Cristiano Mirarchi has also turned heads with his 11 goals through six games, including five against Stanford on Sept. 19.
With the home crowd behind them, anything short of a win at the SoCal Tournament will be seen as a failure in the eyes of the Bruins.
Cal came into the season ranked as the No. 1 team in the country, but fell to No. 3 after losing to USC in the NorCal Tournament.
UCLA and Cal have yet to face off this year, but split a pair of meetings last year. UCLA’s win came in the MPSF Tournament, effectively killing Cal’s chances of getting to the NCAA Tournament.
Cal comes prepared with a swift counterattack led by a pair of Serbian attackers ““ Luka Saponjic and Ivan Rackov (pictured), who has found the back of the net 18 times this year.
UCLA faced Stanford Sept. 19 at the NorCal Tournament and came away with a 10-9 win, a rare result for a team that has a history of futility against the Cardinal.
Stanford is the only MPSF team that boasts a winning record against UCLA (79-62), and the Bruins’ win marked the first time they had beaten the Cardinal in seven tries dating back to 2007.
That doesn’t mean UCLA will be taking Stanford lightly in the SoCal Tournament. The Cardinal run an open style of offense, but always come armed with strong men in the 2-meter position, such as Peter Sefton (pictured), who put in three goals in the match-up earlier this year. If UCLA and Stanford happen to meet in the finals, UCLA’s centers and utility players will have to brace for a tough matchup in the post.