It’s a frigid 48 degrees at the end of men’s water polo practice Wednesday night ““ not exactly swimming weather ““ but the players don’t seem to mind.
They’re fired up, hungry to redeem themselves from Saturday’s agonizing loss to USC. Practices have been intense all week, but the team knows success is about more than just physical preparation. It’s about determination.
“You’re tired, sore, sick ““ there’s no excuses,” coach Adam Wright said.
“In a game, you’re always going to be tired, and you have two choices: You can switch it off, or you can stay in the moment and stay focused on what we’re trying to do.”
No. 4 UCLA (16-4, 4-2 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) will have an opportunity to test its newfound mental toughness in a home-and-away back-to-back weekend. The Bruins will host No. 10 Pepperdine (9-12, 1-5) Saturday and travel to No. 7 Santa Barbara (10-8, 1-4) Sunday.
Victories in both these games are crucial for seeding in the MPSF Tournament, and competition promises to be tough.
“Santa Barbara’s definitely a good opponent ““ they lost to USC by a goal in the SoCal Tournament,” redshirt junior attacker Cullen Hennessy said. “We have to go up there, and it’s a tough place to play. One end of the pool is shallower than the other, so that’s an advantage for the home team. We’re going to go in and play tired, but we expect to take care of things.”
After a week of rigorous practice, the Bruins should be looking tired, but also stronger. With only two games left in the regular season, they are already ramping up their training regimen to prepare for the MPSF Tournament, which they will likely have to win to attain a bid to the four-team NCAA Tournament.
While the task is daunting ““ a MPSF victory would likely mean defeating No. 1 California or No. 2 USC, both of which have eluded UCLA all season ““ the team managed a similar feat last year.
The Oct. 15 victory against then-No. 4 Stanford shows that UCLA has the talent to clinch the tournament ““ they just need to refocus and rekindle their competitive passion.
“Our season’s so short, there’s no time to feel sorry for yourself,” redshirt senior center Jacob Murphy said. “We kind of just regrouped, had a little “˜kumbaya,’ and now we’re just eager to start playing some serious games again. This weekend will be a great opportunity to work on what we do best: playing together, and playing to win.”