After hitting a few speed bumps ““ two of which glowed the blue and gold of the California Golden Bears ““ UCLA men’s water polo was determined to drive as smoothly as possible through the rest of its season.
With a win this past weekend against the country’s No. 1 team and fellow Mountain Pacific Sports Federation member Stanford, things are looking good.
Though the team refuses to look more than one game ahead, the players cannot help but review the implications that a win against top-ranked Stanford has on their postseason hopes.
“Beating the No. 1 team means a lot. It’s the only game we play against them,” junior utility Josh Samuels said, “so this helps us for the MPSF and the NCAA Tournament.”
For the MPSF Tournament, teams are ranked against one another. Winning their only game against Stanford puts them up on the Cardinal in terms of tournament seeding, which can also help in the at-large bid for the NCAA Tournament.
The team has consistently worked on its defense, especially as it was not spot-on in recent games against Cal and UC Irvine.
Though their defensive performances have gotten better, junior attacker Griffin White said, they can always improve. Samuels also thinks the team can still make vast improvements, even after the major wins this past weekend.
“Everyone really needs to work individually on things that will make the team better,” he said. “Our 6-on-5 and our 5-man need to get better. … It has to keep improving or there’s no way we can be successful.”
This past weekend’s win against Stanford is not only a statistical boost but also a morale boost. The team lost two games to Cal earlier this month before the Stanford match. Knowing that they could beat a top-ranked MPSF team gives them a much-needed shot of confidence.
“Our biggest strength this weekend was just being able to focus on the now,” White said. “We were able to put bad stuff behind us and shake it off.”
Coach Adam Wright praised his team for coming down from the emotional high of Saturday’s win and soundly beating No. 14 Santa Clara on Sunday, a game in which many young players had the chance to shine.
The team is not straying from its “one game at a time” approach, but it is not as concerned about its upcoming competitors ““ UCLA is playing two games against local, nonconference teams on Saturday.
Samuels said, “As long as we play properly and stick to the game plan, we should handle it, though I’d never discredit an opponent.”
Wright saw a lot from his players this past weekend that he hopes to see them replicate as the season progresses. He said that winning a road game by one goal against the No. 1 team said a lot about the team.
“This win will help down the road. There were some great moments in this game,” Wright said. “You’ll see a lot of those again as the season goes on.”