In the past five times UCLA men’s water polo has faced USC, none have been decided by more than one goal.
Earlier this season, the UCLA men’s water polo team redeemed itself from its upsetting 11-10 loss against USC in the 2012 NCAA championships by beating USC 9-8 during the NorCal Invitational in September. A month later, the Trojans came back and showed the Bruins that they were a force to be reckoned with, coming back from a three-point deficit to win 12-11 in double overtime at the SoCal Invitational.
The feelings in this rivalry are palpable, according to sophomore utility Danny McClintick.
“There’s a strong rivalry there, but at the end of the day, we need to approach it the way we would approach any other game,” he said.
Despite the competition, the team is more concerned with playing its own game, and has been emphasizing this idea in practice.
“We just have to keep cool, play our game and not get overly excited,” said sophomore defender Anthony Daboub. “If we play together and we know how to play we should be fine.”
The Bruins agree that this game against USC is less about the rivalry and more about what they can do to better prepare themselves for the upcoming postseason.
Coach Adam Wright said that the team is physically prepared for what USC will bring to the game but will continue to work on mentally preparing for stressful situations.
After weeks of hard labor and strenuous practices, Wright emphasized rest and routine this week to ensure the team will be in full attack mode tonight.
“We want the guys to be feeling good (tonight), so the workload has gone down but the mental preparation has gone up,” Wright said.
But the key to this match, according to Daboub, is to stay in control throughout the course of the game.
“We’ve been working on playing really good fundamental defense and making sure that we play our game and not fall into the hands of their game,” Daboub said.
Additionally, UCLA Athletics announced earlier this week that tickets to tonight’s game at Spieker Aquatics Center are sold out, although limited seating for students will be available at the start of the game. But the abnormally large crowd isn’t something that Wright is worried about.
“Does it put more pressure on the team? No,” Wright said. “We can’t get caught up in the things we can’t control.”
However, the players said they are still very excited and eager for a chance to prove themselves once more.
“We’ve been looking to this game for a long time now and we’re really excited,” McClintick said. “But we don’t want to get too emotional. We know it’s gonna be a dog fight out there.”