Despite a second straight loss to a Big Four opponent, UCLA men’s water polo is experiencing the growth it has been waiting for.
“I think one of the more positive things for me is seeing the team grow over the last two weeks,” said senior utility Alex Roelse. “We’ve had two good weeks of workouts and practices, which have led to us playing better than we have in the previous parts of the season.”
No. 3 UCLA (17-3, 0-2 MPSF) fell to No. 4 Stanford (16-3, 1-1) on Saturday afternoon, its second loss to a top-four opponent in two weeks. UCLA, which was ranked No. 1 in the country just a month ago, will likely be headed for the fourth place in the nation.
However, the Bruins are not concerned by the result in Stanford, nor their ranking.
“At this point we’re not really focused on postseason rankings or anything of that nature,” said senior attacker Max Irving. “We are just focused on getting better as a group and taking every moment we have as an opportunity to get better, and become closer to the team that we want to be.”
UCLA has one game remaining on its regular season schedule before it enters MPSF conference tournament play, and the numbers suggest that the Bruins may be getting closer to postseason form.
UCLA held Stanford to just seven total goals Saturday, the Cardinal’s second-lowest scoring tally this season. On the offensive end, the Bruins are averaging just under 10 goals per game in the recent five games.
“We’ve realized that we have the potential to really compete with any of the top-four teams and we’ve shown that before,” Roelse said. “That should give the players the right motivation to come and attack this week, knowing that if we work the right way, we’ll be able to succeed come the end of the season.”
The final test of the season for UCLA will be against No. 1 USC (22-2, 1-1) on Saturday. The last time the two teams met was in late September, when the Bruins handed the Trojans their first loss of the season.
Coach Adam Wright said the season finale will be an indicator of where his team stands heading into postseason play.
“We know we’re playing a really good team in USC, a veteran team,” Wright said. “We know that it’s going to be a tough game and the reality is that we have a chance to get better through the week, and we have a chance to get better through playing a team like USC.”
USC leads the Big Four in goals per game with 15.8, as well as in goals allowed with just 4.2. USC fell to California this past weekend, which was its first loss since falling to UCLA in September.
The crosstown rivalry match will be played at Spieker Aquatics Center on Saturday at 1 p.m.