After four quarters, two overtime periods and 22 combined goals, it all came down to one five-meter penalty.
With 2 minutes, 38 seconds left in the third overtime period, senior center Matt Farmer was fouled, and the refs called it: a penalty for the Bruins.
Senior utility Alex Roelse converted the shot for his fourth goal of the day and a triple-overtime 12-11 victory for No. 4 UCLA men’s water polo (18-3, 1-2 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) over its crosstown rival No. 2 USC (22-3, 1-2).
“I really wanted to take it,” Roelse said. “And when it comes to stuff like that, it’s a really defining moment of the game, there’s a lot of pressure … I was really excited to take it.”
The game was a back-and-forth affair, with both teams constantly applying pressure and neither gaining more than a two-goal advantage over the other.
“At this point, it doesn’t get any better,” said coach Adam Wright. “You’re at home, the game is tied, you’re in overtime against USC, we get up one, then they tie it, they get up one, then we tie it. There’s really nothing better.”
Senior attacker Max Irving, playing in his last home game, scored four goals for the Bruins, and freshman attacker Nicolas Saveljic added two more en route to the win.
“I’m glad this game went the way it did,” Roelse said. “Last day, to have a good game, with a win against your rival … playing such a big role, it means a lot to me.”
USC started with two goals in under a minute and a half and led for a majority of regulation. For the Trojans, drivers Blake Edwards, Zach D’Sa and Marko Vavic, as well as two-meter Lachlan Edwards, each scored two goals, while driver Matteo Morelli, utility James Walters and driver Lazar Pasuljevic each had one. The Trojans were unable to avenge their loss to the Bruins earlier this year, marking a reversal from last year, when the Trojans won both games.
“I knew it was going to be tough,” Irving said. “We have our themes: control, presence, intensity, competitive grit. Those kinds of themes help us in moments like that where we train with no reserves.”
With the win, UCLA earned its first conference win of the season heading into the MPSF tournament hosted at Stanford. Both UCLA and USC are now 1-2 in conference play and this might affect their potential matchups in their final tournament before the NCAA championships.
Looking ahead to next weekend, with No. 1 California (18-2, 2-1) and No. 3 Stanford (18-3, 2-1) waiting along with USC, UCLA will start its conference tournament Saturday.
“We’ve got to stay focused,” Wright said. “We’ve got to quickly recover. … They’ve got to keep doing what they’ve been doing the past three weeks. That’s focus, presence. We want to be efficient with our energy. We don’t want to spend a ton of time redoing things.”
The theme for the Bruins has been to take it one game at a time, and both Wright and Roelse agree that this game, while a positive step in their season, will not have any impact on their performances next weekend.
“We don’t really believe in the momentum,” Roelse said. “We’re now gonna have the confidence, maybe, a little more in ourselves that we really deserve to be in the right position in the tournament. … We’re gonna attack this week and try to have the best workouts we’ve had all season.”
Wright backed up the senior’s statement. His goal coming into the week was to see progression in his team before a weekend of tough opponents, and he saw progressions form his players today. While he does not believe in momentum having an effect on the team, he believes the situations in this game will help the team in the near future.
“We came a long way today,” Wright said. “We’re going to go through a lot of those same situations, so to experience them this weekend and to find a way out will be useful for next week.”