It is a tradition that the winners of the NCAA water polo title jump in the pool immediately as the final buzzer sounds. Not just players, but head coach, assistants ““ everyone.
This weekend, UCLA walked away from the title game all too dry.
UCLA lost in the championship to Southern California.
This marks USC’s fourth straight title, an unprecedented record.
It was the teams’ fifth meeting this season ““ previously, the series was tied at 2-2.
The opportunity to tip the scales to 3-2 was an opportunity several Bruins awaited feverishly.
“We were excited; I thought if we could capitalize and play solid defense we’d have a great game,” said attacker Cullen Hennessy, the redshirt senior team captain who played his final game for the Bruin-blue-and-gold. “We didn’t come through.”
The title game marked the end of an era for three Bruins: Hennessey and fellow redshirt seniors Brett Hays and Andrew Mesesan.
“Obviously they are very disappointed, but they’ve come a long way. … It was a great season for the guys who are graduating. Their contributions will mean a lot … two-time MPSF champs, two-time second in the nation, they’ve come a long way,” coach Adam Wright said.
It was the third meeting in three weeks for USC and UCLA, and the second in those weeks in which the teams played for a title.
The game was the polar opposite of the one they played the weekend before, when UCLA took the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation title.
In that game, the Bruins came out ahead early, and were on target throughout the game.
Sunday, UCLA’s two first-half goals by junior utility Josh Samuels were bookends for the five that the Trojans managed to score in between.
Most of the Bruins’ shots refused to go in goal ““ it looked as though the ball was magnetically attracted to the hands of USC’s goalie, Joel Dennerley.
Dennerley blocked shots from every possible angle, preventing any chance of a Bruin rally.
“He was excellent; he’s the goalie for the Australian national team for a reason. … USC was great as a whole but (Dennerley), he was fantastic,” Wright said.
The Bruins also saw a return of their recently overcome defensive issues.
The team had hardly any field blocks, leaving all defense to redshirt junior goalie Matt Rapacz.
“The crowd was really loud and USC brought a band, so it was tough to communicate,” Rapacz said. “It was a challenge but it was OK.”
The third quarter brought an offensive drought for both sides, broken in the final two minutes with a goal from USC and one from UCLA freshman attacker Paul Reynolds.
UCLA failed to capitalize on multiple third-quarter opportunities.
USC scored quickly in the fourth quarter, while UCLA was repeatedly shut down by a strong Trojan defense, with the exception of one goal from Hays.
The Bruins were going hard and taking shots until the final moments, but nothing could get through the goalposts.
UCLA had a slow start on Saturday against UC San Diego, scoring only once in the first quarter and ending the first half at 4-1, but they managed a powerhouse rally, ending the game at 10-1.
UCLA’s best offensive games are marked by contributions from multiple players.
On Saturday, the Bruins totaled 10 goals from seven players, including multiple goals from Hennessy and junior attackers Griffin White and Bret Lathrope.
Sunday saw four goals from three players, which tied for the Bruins’ lowest-scoring game this season.
Fourteen of their shots were saved by Dennerley, and several others bounced off or over the posts.
“There isn’t a word in the dictionary for what happened today,” Rapacz said. “It just didn’t happen.”