Shouts of “Get out of there!” echoed from the center at the tail-end of Wednesday’s men’s water polo practice.
In any water polo drill involving shot creation from the top of the offensive arc, the shooter hopes to get a straight-on shot at the goalkeeper’s cage. Often, the biggest obstacle is one’s own teammates, who are responsible for clearing the shooting lane.
Getting out of its own way and not becoming its own worst enemy on offense will be key for No. 2 UCLA (20-2, 3-0 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) if it intends to make a push for its first national championship since 2004.
After emerging victorious from its first-ever Thursday night game at Speiker over No. 4 Pepperdine, UCLA is now gearing up to face No. 7 Long Beach State (19-5, 1-2 MPSF) in yet another pivotal conference matchup on Saturday.
The two teams have not faced off yet this season, leaving the Bruins with the difficult task of preparing for the unknown.
“We haven’t gotten to see to much of them in the film room because they’ve changed so much since the last time we filmed them,” said sophomore attacker Daniel Lenhart. “I think we’re going to have to take them really seriously.”
Long Beach’s potential to shake things up in the MPSF standings could prove to be just as serious.
Despite having won just a single game in conference play, Long Beach was able to turn some heads in the Bay Area last weekend, sinking No. 6 Cal at home and coming within a goal of doing the same to No. 3 Stanford just a day later.
“They are a completely different team than they were at the beginning of the year,” said assistant coach Daniel Leyson.
“We’ve always known that they have very good players, but something clicked recently with them.”
History repeats itself
In its last 14 meetings with Long Beach, UCLA has had 14 victories. The 49ers have not defeated the Bruins in conference play since the 2002 season.
Although history isn’t on its side, Long Beach’s ability to close out games could prove advantageous if it can hang on late into Saturday afternoon’s game.
“We just have to make sure that we’re playing our game,” freshman defender Anthony Daboub said. “They’re a good team, but if we play the way we know how then we should be fine.”
Sticking with the game plan will be key for the Bruins early in the game ““ the 49ers are 18-0 when leading after three quarters this season.
“˜Til they collapse
In its first three conference games so far, UCLA has yet to come out with a loss. But still, the Bruins have not yet been tasked with the burden of playing multiple MSPF opponents in the same weekend.
At this point in the season, the Bruins are aware that soreness and bruising are expected, especially since playing late in the season is a goal of theirs.
“When you’re a competitive person, you want to contend every year,” said freshman utility Danny McClintick.
“It’ll be important for us to be here and be ready to play.”
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