Wednesday, August 21

Men’s water polo begins MPSF play


Senior attacker Ben Hohl, seen here in the SoCal Tournament championship game Sunday, and the rest of the Bruins visit Cal and Pacific this weekend.

Senior attacker Ben Hohl, seen here in the SoCal Tournament championship game Sunday, and the rest of the Bruins visit Cal and Pacific this weekend.

Blaine Ohigashi


Men’s Waterpolo

Cal
Saturday, 10 a.m.

Berkeley
Pacific
Sunday, 12 p.m.
Stockton

No. 2 UCLA will jockey for conference positioning this weekend against MPSF rivals Cal and Pacific.

“The tape shows the cold, hard truth,” coach Adam Wright said.

A coach that holds such a high standard of excellence focuses on the losses much more than the wins. Forget that the UCLA men’s water polo team won three games at the SoCal Tournament last weekend. The only thing still on Wright’s mind is the 9-8 loss to USC on Sunday.

The cold, hard truth was this: six exclusions ““ which led to four Trojan goals ““ three counterattack scores and other mental errors that cost the Bruins the game.

“There was a situation where we had more guys on defense than they had on offense and they got a goal,” Wright added. “That’s just a lack of communication between the players, a lack of thinking out there, and it’s not acceptable.”

There won’t be much time to dwell on the past with Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play starting this weekend, as No. 2 UCLA (8-2) heads north to face No. 4 Cal (10-2) on Saturday and No. 7 Pacific (8-4) on Sunday.

What’s surprising about Saturday’s matchup is that Cal and UCLA have yet to face each other this year. The Bears entered the year as the preseason No. 1 but fell in the semifinals of the NorCal Tournament and the quarters of the SoCal Tournament.

But as UCLA knows, Cal still presents a physical challenge. Senior center Zach White ““ the older brother of UCLA sophomore attacker Griffin White ““ is one of the best in the MPSF at holding position down low and already has 18 earned exclusions on the year. Junior attacker Ivan Rackov, who is averaging three goals per game for the Bears, balances the offense with his sharpshooting.

Senior attacker Ben Hohl has the big picture in mind when looking at Saturday’s tilt.

“Not only is it a big game just for MPSF seedings, but if you look down the line toward an open bid for NCAA championships, they look at how you’ve matched up with other teams, and if we’ve only played Cal once and we lost, that’s not good for us,” Hohl said.

Going into Sunday’s matchup in Stockton, UCLA knows all about how dangerous Pacific is. The Tigers took a second-quarter lead against the Bruins on Saturday at the SoCal Tournament and kept the Bruins close throughout the 13-11 UCLA win.

Pacific’s play Saturday might be an indication of how much tighter the conference is this year.

Four schools ““ UCLA, USC, Cal and Stanford ““ normally occupy the top four of the Collegiate Water Polo Association national rankings, but after Cal and Stanford both lost to other MPSF teams ““ UC Irvine and UCSB, respectively ““ in the quarterfinals of the SoCal Tournament, the rankings shuffled up a bit. UCI now sits at No. 3, followed by Cal, UCSB and Stanford.

After last weekend, it’s clear that UCLA’s conference schedule, which usually consists of just three marquee games, won’t be as simple anymore.

“This year’s going to be very tough in MPSFs,” Hohl said.

“The parity’s there,” Wright added. “But that’s the unique thing about water polo and the MPSF: If it’s a one-game deal, on any given day anyone can win. … It’s really good for the sport, but it makes it a lot harder.”

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