It was a game for the veterans, one that showed what it takes to be an older player on the UCLA men’s water polo team.
No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (19-3, 1-2 MPSF) took on No. 2 California (19-3, 2-1) at Avery Aquatic Center in the first round of the MPSF tournament Friday. With a win, the Bruins would not only take the lead in the season series, but would also punch their ticket to the tournament final Sunday.
And that is exactly what happened.
Despite the score being tight for the entirety of the game, the Bruins prevented the Bears from taking the lead. Senior utility Alex Roelse, who scored two goals by halftime, said he expected the game to be a close one.
“I knew this was going to be a close game, but I think we prepared well and that allowed us to rely on our skills and training to push us through,” Roelse said.
Roelse also knew that it was going to be key for the veterans to step up, something he has been preaching to his fellow seniors all season.
“Before the season started, the seniors came together and spoke about setting the right example for such a young group this year, something we do week in and week out.” Roelse said.
Junior attacker David Stiling, who scored the first and last goals of the first half, said scoring on the opening possession allowed the Bruins to settle in and focus on the game plan.
“It was great that the first goal happened on our first possession and gave us some momentum, which continued throughout the rest of the game,” Stiling said. “I think the biggest thing for us was that we stuck to our game plan and kept a level head throughout the entire game.”
UCLA fell behind early against California in their last meeting, and could not make up the deficit. With the win, the Bruins are now 4-2 against “Big Four” opponents this season.
UCLA will face USC (24-3, 1-2) in the MPSF tournament final Sunday at 1 p.m. at the Avery Aquatic Center.
Coach Adam Wright said he is focused on making sure his players are prepared both mentally and physically.
“We’ve got to recover and refocus,” Wright said. “I don’t think USC is going to have a hard time getting up for the game and neither will we.”