Sophomore attacker Daniel Lenhart received a perimeter pass and dumped the ball to fellow sophomore attacker Paul Reynolds. Then he saw a lull in the Stanford defense and again called for the ball.
Before his defender could fully gather himself, the left-handed Lenhart fired the ball past Stanford’s goalkeeper, giving UCLA men’s water polo the Sunday afternoon sudden death overtime victory.
“I didn’t know it went in at first,” Lenhart said. “I came up and heard everyone cheering and it was a good feeling ““ for the whole team.”
The No. 2 Bruins (27-4, 7-1 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) erupted in cheers for the moment, having just earned third place in the MPSF tournament over No. 4 Stanford (16-7, 5-3) with the 10-9 win, but all eyes were on undefeated crosstown rival USC and its MPSF final match against Cal just a few minutes later.
After they fell flat in a 12-9 semifinal loss to No. 3 Cal (17-8. 5-3), the Bruins needed the Trojans to claim the MPSF crown over the Golden Bears in order to free up the NCAA tournament’s sole at-large spot. Sure enough, USC emerged the 9-5 victor, with a thankful UCLA squad on-hand to watch.
While UCLA came back from the unexpected loss and earned its second straight opportunity to compete for the NCAA title next weekend, the Bruins admitted that they didn’t play their best water polo throughout the weekend.
“I think this whole weekend, we weren’t as sharp, which is kind of concerning,” coach Adam Wright said. “Fortunately, we found a way to win, but that’s not the way we came here to play.”
In the first half of Sunday’s third-place game, both teams looked to be playing with a nervousness that prevented any consistent flow or penetration on offense.
The tentative performance was very similar to UCLA’s loss to Cal from the day before.
“As far as (Saturday), we didn’t come out aggressive,” senior goalkeeper Matt Rapacz said. “The mental game can be pretty crucial, and I feel like we weren’t mentally in the game.”
Sophomore attacker Chris Fahlsing tied things up at nine with nine seconds left in overtime, breathing life into a UCLA squad that was on the ropes after blowing a two-goal lead in the fourth quarter.
Taking all the game’s momentum into sudden death, the Bruins were eventually able to triumph and do their part in wiping away Saturday’s letdown.
“Obviously we were all disappointed after (Saturday), but then to come back and win in sudden death today, I think that says something about the character of this group,” Wright said.
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