In a six-on-six scrimmage at the end of Tuesday night’s UCLA men’s water polo practice, the team’s defense could be seen bobbing up and down in the water in between plays.
While resembling a breath-holding contest, this tactic is used so that the defense isn’t aware of what attack scheme the offense will run.
This weekend’s Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament similarly presents the No. 2 Bruins (25-3, 7-1 MPSF) with a difficult unknown, even though the team has already faced every conference squad at least once this season.
On Friday, UCLA will travel to USC to face No. 7 Pacific (12-10, 3-5), a team it has already defeated twice during this season.
The Bruins have been breaking down film of the Tigers’ most consistent threats in 6-foot-6-inch freshman utility Aleksandar Petrovic and the team’s leading scorer in junior attacker Balazs Erdelyi, but know their opponents will try to use unpredictability to their advantage come Friday.
“They have a very dynamic six-on-five so we’re trying to cover those steps, but at the end of the day, we never know what they’re going to run, so we just need to be fundamentally sound,” coach Adam Wright said.
Because there is such a short amount of time to recover in between games this weekend, fatigue will likely become a factor for UCLA and thus strong second-unit play will prove to be key.
“I think we’re a deep team,” said senior attacker Griffin White. “We have a lot of bodies that we can put in the water so we won’t miss a beat.”
In last season’s MPSF Tournament, which took place at UCLA’s Spieker Aquatics Center, the Bruins won three consecutive overtime games to earn their second MPSF title since 2009.
The rankings may indicate UCLA has performed better than all but one MPSF team so far this season, but the team insists that mental toughness will be crucial, with each game’s potential to turn into a nail-biter.
“The physical part is done,” senior goalkeeper Matt Rapacz said. “We’ve trained as hard as we can train, but for these tournaments, with three games in three days, you have to mentally prepare yourself.
“It’s going to be long, it’s going to be hard and every team is going to give it their all because it’s win or go home.”