The team looked like one that had just sounded the alarm.
Minutes after an 8-5 loss to USC at McDonald’s Swim Stadium Saturday, the UCLA men’s water polo team held a players-only meeting to address the issues that plagued them in arguably their worst performance of the year.
What was most disappointing for the Bruins ““ a team that still has national championship aspirations ““ was the fact that it took 19 games for the wake-up call to come.
“A lot of people said different things,” redshirt senior center and captain Jacob Murphy said. “We have a lot of leaders on this team, and we each have our own role. And we spoke about, main thing, our attitude needs to change.”
The disarray was clear for everyone to see, including the large number of Bruin fans who made the trip to USC. UCLA had put in weeks of preparation hoping for vengeance over its nemesis, but looked lost from the opening sprint.
“I feel like we’re just not fired up enough to come out and play,” senior attacker Ben Hohl said. “(But) we just had a great team meeting, and we’re going to change our mentality and really get it ready to go this weekend and for the MPSF Tournament.”
The loss to the Trojans leaves the Bruins with a 0-4 record against the top two teams in the country, both Mountain Pacific Sports Federation squads ““ No. 1 Cal and No. 2 USC.
The only avenue for the Bruins to get into the four-team NCAA Tournament will most likely be the automatic bid given to the MPSF Tournament champion.
“Obviously, the stakes have changed,” Murphy said. “I mean, the reality is, we have to beat everybody anyway.”
The situation is dire, but not foreign. Last year, the Bruins sat at No. 4 going into MPSFs, yet still came through with three wins in three days to get the automatic bid.
“It’s kind of nice knowing how we approached the tournament last year,” Murphy said. “We have our work cut out for us.”
Finding the team mentality
A hot phrase thrown around after the loss was “playing for each other,” which UCLA failed to do against USC.
“Guys are playing for themselves,” coach Adam Wright said.
“Six-on-5 we had openings, and they’re playing for themselves and not finishing shots.”
Save for one designed play that netted a goal by redshirt junior Cullen Hennessy, the Bruins’ offensive plan, carefully crafted by Wright, was nowhere to be seen.
“We always have to be thinking three moves, three passes ahead,” Murphy said. “It’s more of like a chess game than “˜pick up the ball and just fire at the goal.’”
Around the MPSF
After a non-conference win over Air Force Monday, UCLA has a 16-4 record. The Bruins’ 4-2 MPSF record is good for fourth in the conference, behind Cal, Stanford and USC, respectively.