Heading into another big test for UCLA men’s water polo, coach Adam Wright is taking steps in practice to make sure his team doesn’t fall flat on its face again.
The coach that constantly preaches control knows that one more slip could cost the Bruins dearly.
“A change in mentality comes through training,” Wright said. “We were working hard before, now everything is a little bit more attention to detail, having to be sharper every day at practice, a little bit more of a work load.
“But we’re full steam ahead. There’s no turning back now,” he added with a chuckle.
Since every game in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation seems to be a test, No. 3 UCLA (9-3, 1-1 MPSF) knows it has to pass the next one, which comes tonight in the form of No. 4 Stanford (7-4, 1-0) at Spieker Aquatics Center.
The last meeting between the Bruins and the Cardinal resulted in a 10-9 UCLA win on Sept. 19 at the NorCal Tournament.
“If you had to kind of give them some sort of identity, it’s that they’re always moving,” Wright said. “Whether it be on offense or defense, they’re hoping to create a little bit of panic, which you can’t do, because you’ll pay for it.”
“Panic” was a word Wright used often after UCLA’s 11-8 loss to Cal in Berkeley Saturday. The Bruins effortlessly jumped out to a 4-2 lead, but when they tried to put their foot on the pedal, things backfired.
“The first quarter was spectacular,” freshman goalkeeper James Hartshorne said. “We were doing everything we were practicing, and so we went up 4-2. And after that, I don’t know, we thought we could take control of the game.”
It seemed as if everything was going wrong. Even the vaunted Bruin attack couldn’t muster a score for more than 14 minutes at one point in the game.
Now, an equally tough Stanford team comes to Westwood, fresh off a win over previously undefeated USC last weekend at home.
Stanford held USC, which had been averaging nearly 12 goals a game against MPSF opponents, to just three in a 5-3 win.
In a game that could be a defensive struggle, the last line of defense will be important. But as the case has been with UCLA all year, Wright hasn’t decided who his goalkeeper will be.
Hartshorne started in Saturday’s loss to Cal, while redshirt junior Andrew Mesesan manned the cage in UCLA’s 10-9 win over Pacific Sunday. Hartshorne, a true freshman who hasn’t been fazed by much this year, said he was prepared to go if Wright calls on him.
“I know a lot of their guys have a quick release, so I’ve got to be on the ball, just not jumping too much,” he said.
“We’re going to be fine,” Wright said when talking about his goalkeepers. “At the end of the day, it’s not coming down to our goalies. It’s coming down to what’s going on in front with the rest of the team, and we’ve got to do a better job.”
While No. 3 UCLA and No. 4 Stanford face off in Westwood, No. 1 USC and No. 2 Cal will also go at it this weekend in another premier MPSF showdown. Just this year, UCLA beat Stanford, which beat USC, which beat Cal, which beat UCLA. That doesn’t go very far in determining who belongs at the top, which is why the games played this weekend will help to shape the conference.
“Honestly, I would rather have it no other way than have them come down here, because we need to see where we stand now, and see where we’re going to go as a group,” Wright said.
After tonight’s showdown against Stanford, UCLA will return to the pool Sunday at noon to take on Western Water Polo Association foe Chapman.