The Bruins have won the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Invitational in each of the past two seasons.
“I think the biggest thing about this weekend is that we’re going to really see where were at,” said coach Adam Wright. “I think that’s important for this group so we can move forward.”
No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (16-0) will compete against Santa Clara (4-6) in the MPSF Invitational on Friday, the first day of the weekend-long tournament. Should UCLA win, they will face the winner of the matchup between No. 11 UC San Diego (10-3) and No. 8 Pepperdine (9-6).
UCLA has not played Santa Clara in the last four seasons. Their last meeting was in 2013, when the Bruins prevailed 16-2.
In September, UCLA defeated Pepperdine 16-10. The Bruins have yet to play UCSD this season, but have beaten the Tritons in each of their meetings over the past three seasons. UCLA knocked UCSD out of the first round of the NCAA tournament in both 2014 and 2015.
“I think that for this team, the biggest thing that we need to worry about us ourselves,” Wright said. “We can’t even think about the big teams because we play Santa Clara first.”
The largest scoring differential for UCLA in its past three games against ranked opponents has been four points. Wright said the Bruins have struggled with sustained energy and consistency throughout recent games.
“(Wright’s) been emphasizing our focus and our presence in training,” said senior defender Warren Synder. “Our ability to be consistent from the start to the finish (has been a focus).”
Defense has been a big focus for the team. Redshirt junior goalie Alex Wolf registered 10 saves in his last outing and has been averaging about saves per game in the past five games, but Wright said field players need to step up defensively.
“Starting with defense – we have not done a good job there,” Wright said. “We’re depending on our goalies to take a lot of shots where we should have field blocks.”
Should the UCLA win its first two matches, it will likely face the winner of No. 1 Stanford (10-0) and No. 6 Pacific (6-5) in its third game Saturday. Stanford beat then-No. 1 USC (18-1) 13-11 on Saturday.
Stanford center Ben Hallock– a member of the U.S. Olympic team and 2017 MPSF Newcomer of the Year– is someone UCLA’s players are familiar with. Hallock attended high school with both sophomore attacker Luke Henriksson and Snyder.
“(Hallock’s) a great center – he’s got really good hand skills,” Snyder said. “He’s got really good positioning and he’s got a lot of experience.”
This weekend is the team’s first taste of conference play, and Henriksson said it will be a test of the team’s endurance.
“We have just stuck to (practicing) the basics,” Henriksson said. “Just keep practicing and stick to our fundamental skills.”