UCLA men’s water polo played hard through the last part of Wednesday’s practice, cheering one another on when they succeeded and cursing themselves when they failed.
You wouldn’t guess that the Bruins had just found out they were the No. 1-ranked team in the country.
“We’re the No. 1 team now, so that’s just more reason to want to beat us,” redshirt senior Cullen Hennessy said.
“When you’re UCLA, everyone already wants to beat you. Being No. 1 makes it more so.”
The now No. 1 Bruins are part of a total shift in the top-four teams in the country. Previously No. 1 Stanford dropped to No. 3, California moved to No. 4 and USC is now on UCLA’s heels at No. 2.
The Bruins have not been the sole No. 1 team since 2005. Though the higher ranking is encouraging, the team is trying not to take it to heart.
“No one remembers who was No. 1 for one week in week seven when it’s all over,” junior utility Josh Samuels said.
Samuels also added that the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation rankings are more important when it comes to postseason.
UCLA is currently tied with California, Stanford and Pepperdine with a 2-1 record in the conference, behind USC at 3-0.
MPSF rankings are used to decide who gets bids to the NCAA Tournament.
“What really matters is who’s No. 1 when the season ends,” said coach Adam Wright.
This week, UCLA (13-3, 2-1 MPSF) goes to Pomona, where it will play two games in a row on Saturday.
The first is against Whittier (7-11), and the second is against Pomona-Pitzer (5-13).
In last weekend’s win against Santa Clara, Wright was able to make use of many young players who had not seen much game time this season.
Wright said the same strategy will help them this weekend.
For nonconference games, the Bruins have a wider roster capacity, so they can take more players and give more of them a chance to play.
Wright expressed his hope that the players who usually see more pool time will give the younger ones more opportunities when it comes to vital moments in the game.
In addition to giving other players a chance to show their skills, the wider roster helps the team deal with its two consecutive games on Saturday.
With a bigger group, UCLA can send in a fresh lineup at the beginning of the second match, allowing the team to cope with fatigue due to the quick turnaround between games.
Looking toward this weekend, Samuels said that they have to expect the unexpected, because both Pomona-Pitzer and Whittier have rather unorthodox styles of play.
However, Wright was less concerned with exact preparations for the teams that the Bruins will face.
“It’s not really about what they do, what rank we are, it’s just about how well we can play for the rest of the season,” he said.