While most students at UCLA were relaxing for the long weekend, the men’s water polo team was hard at work.
The team, currently tied with USC for the top spot in the nation, played two vital conference games this week in hopes of cementing their Mountain Pacific Sports Federation record.
UCLA (19-3, 5-1 MPSF) emerged with two victories against fellow conference teams, winning 13-10 against No. 8 Long Beach State on Thursday and 9-6 against No. 9 Pepperdine on Saturday.
Junior utility Josh Samuels’ four goals contributed heavily to Thursday’s game, and redshirt junior goalie Matt Rapacz had a season-high 12 saves against Long Beach State.
Although Rapacz had a great game, the team still struggled with its defense. The Bruins allowed 10 balls into the net Saturday instead of holding Long Beach State to less than six, a goal UCLA sets for every game.
“Our defense wasn’t near where it needed to be,” said Cullen Hennessy, redshirt senior attacker and team captain. “It comes down to commitment, and Thursday was lazy all around.”
The game was tied 5-5 at halftime, but as soon as the third quarter started, Long Beach netted two goals.
The Bruins managed to respond with five straight goals, snagging a lead that they never let go of.
They led the entire fourth quarter by two goals. Samuels scored his third and fourth goals, and Hennessy his second.
“It would be nice to not have to play down to one goal,” said coach Adam Wright. “But the reality is, that’s how these big games are going to happen.”
The Bruins then made their way to Pepperdine to play yet another conference game Saturday.
This time, the team put in a defensive performance that lived up to their high expectations, holding the Waves to six goals.
Junior attacker Griffin White led the Bruins with five goals, and Rapacz added 10 saves to the record book.
UCLA gained ground in MPSF standings, though their most important contest comes up next week, when they face ‘SC, who is still undefeated in conference play.
“We’ve gotten into positions we don’t want to be in,” Hennessy said. “Even though we managed to find a way to win, that’s not going to work in the conference tournament.”
Samuels has been a hefty contributor for the Bruins lately. With five goals last week in an overtime match against Pacific, and four goals in the close game against Long Beach, his work has made a serious difference for the team.
Rapacz noted that the contributions from Samuels along with the leadership of Hennessy have helped the team succeed recently.
Although both games were close, the team pulled out two big wins as the Bruins moves towards the postseason, the importance of which was not lost on the team.
“A win on the road is never easy,” Wright said. “And to come out with two conference road wins at this point in the season makes for a good weekend.”