My teammates and I went to the Kap7 NorCal Invitational every year when I was in high school. On the day that would turn out to be my last high school water polo game, our team went to Berkeley to see the Big Splash – the annual rivalry game between Cal and Stanford.
Both occasions were among the few times during the collegiate water polo season when so many high-profile players were concentrated north of Los Angeles, and it was not to be missed. The bleachers were packed.
The first time I saw the Bruins play was at the tournament in 2013. In the championship, UCLA beat USC 9-8 to break the then five-time defending national champion’s 41-game winning streak. Jack Fellner and current senior attacker Ryder Roberts each scored a goal while current senior goalkeeper Garrett Danner recorded 12 saves in cage.
Since then, UCLA has become the benchmark for the collegiate level. The school lies in the heart of one of the water polo capitals of the world, and given its relentless dominance the past three years, spectators should fill every game to the brim like they do in the northern part of the state.
But until the final two weeks of last year’s season when USC and the NCAA Tournament rolled into Westwood, people rarely turned out to the Spieker Aquatics Center for a Friday or Saturday match.
For a school that prides itself so much on having the most national championships of any university in the country, not many people showed up for the team that’s won the most recent ones.
From week to week, all the buzz was about an 8-5 football team that had lost two of its last three to end the regular season, including the ‘SC game.
To its credit, the team did make the Foster Farms Bowl, only to lose to a Nebraska team that even with the win finished with a less-than .500 record. This year, football came out with a No. 16 preseason ranking but for three quarters could hardly manage any production against unranked Texas A&M.
The 2015 water polo team, on the other hand, fended off weeks upon weeks of teams throwing everything they had at the Bruins so they could be the team that would finally break them. UCLA had three targets on its back – defending national champions, the highest ranked team in the country and an undefeated record – and still, no one was able to come up with what it took to bring down one of the best teams in collegiate history.
Now nine months later, the targets haven’t stopped growing. The team has received all but one first place vote in the coaches’ poll each week, its winning streak is longer and now the Bruins are two-time defending national champions.
And though last year’s squad definitely gives it a run for its money, this year, coach Adam Wright might have the best team he’s ever had since he started coaching.
The Bruins return seven All-Americans, including Division I Player of the Year and Peter Cutino award winner Danner and NCAA Tournament MVP Roberts. Stands full of people were watching them impact pivotal games their freshmen year, and now they’re seniors.
The entire core of Wright’s eight-man senior class has logged significant minutes for three years now, and it has a solid chance to continue the 42-game winning streak that by as soon as October could break the program’s nearly half-a-century-old record of 50 straight.
A team of this caliber doesn’t come along very often for any sport at UCLA. Sure, there are good teams and there are great teams – the Wooden-era basketball teams and Al Scates’ men’s volleyball teams come to mind – but the numbers for this year’s and last year’s water polo teams speak for themselves.
Don’t miss out, UCLA – water polo deserves your attention this fall.