Despair hasn’t creeped up on the UCLA men’s water polo team.
After all, a majority of the Bruins were there last year when they suddenly won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, earning them an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Though 2010 has had its ups and downs, the importance of last season hasn’t been lost on the young guys. While not in the pool, they were paying attention from afar when UCLA shook the water polo world, a feat they will likely have to repeat this year.
“I was at the game (at the MPSF Tournament) where they played USC, and what they put on was like, “˜Who is this team?’” freshman goalkeeper James Hartshorne said. “(Winning) 10-6, against a team they lost to in their conference game ““ We all know we’ve got it in us.”
What might be the hallmark of this year’s Bruins is their adaptation to the change in training, just as they did one year before. But the newcomers don’t have the run-through the returning players had one year earlier.
“We’re working pretty hard to try to catch up to other teams,” said freshman attacker Cristiano Mirarchi, who entered the season as a newcomer to both NCAA water polo and the country.
He said his teammates remind him of last year’s success, and he has taken everything in stride, even the intense practice sessions led by coach Adam Wright.
“It’s been tough sometimes,” Mirarchi added. “It’s a different way to play, it’s a different country, it’s a different language, but I think we’re working hard, and I really hope that we can do well.”
Wright turned the dial up on training after a conference loss to Cal on Oct. 9, just like he did in 2009 after UCLA fell behind in the MPSF standings. With only eight days until the start of the MPSF Tournament in Stanford, this week has finally seen the training regimen arrive at its tapering phase.
“This week is used to get back to the basics … and get fundamentally sound with good training,” Wright said. “Friday the 26th, we’ll be flying and feeling good.”
Nobody seems to be complaining either, not even Hartshorne. He knows the intense training in earlier practices was meant to develop UCLA’s ability to play while tired ““ something the Bruins did well in two wins over the weekend.
“We won’t be tired next weekend,” Hartshorne said. “I’ve got energy. I’ve still got things to prove, so I’m ready to go.”
Handicapping the field
UCLA’s season ended one week earlier than the rest of the MPSF, which will conclude conference play this weekend.
The marquee matchup of the weekend will be in Berkeley, where California, which has already clinched the MPSF’s top seed, will host Stanford. Another important tilt will be in Irvine, where UC Irvine hosts USC. The only way UCLA can remain the second seed is if the Trojans and the Cardinal both lose Saturday. A USC win would drop UCLA to third in the case of a Stanford loss, or fourth if Stanford wins.
Wright said that he’s expecting to face either Pacific or UC Irvine in the first round of the tournament, teams UCLA has gone a collective 5-0 against this year.
“You can do the math whatever way you want, you’re going to run into a hard team,” Wright said. “Every team’s good, every game’s going to be hard.”
UCLA will host the Canadian National Team in an exhibition Thursday at Spieker Aquatics Center.