Another weekend, another potentially challenging slate of games for the UCLA men’s water polo game.
Coming off a road trip to Stanford and Santa Clara, the Bruins will travel to Irvine for the UCI Invitational, the event formerly known as the SoCal Tournament.
No. 2 UCLA (10-2, 0-1 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation) opens play Saturday morning against Redlands, and should they win that game, will play the winner of Long Beach State and Navy on Saturday afternoon.
A pair of wins would likely give the Bruins a shot at No. 3 USC (11-1, 3-0) in the semifinals on Sunday. UCLA has defeated the Trojans once already this season, and another victory over its arch-rivals would potentially give the Bruins another shot at No. 1 Stanford (9-0, 1-0) in the championship match later on Sunday.
Despite the chance of playing some of the nation’s top teams, the Bruins are making sure not to look too far ahead.
“There are some really good teams in the tournament, it’s very deep,” coach Adam Wright said. “We definitely cannot be focusing on a USC or a Stanford when we have to go through Redlands and probably Long Beach State, both teams that can play some quality water polo.”
No matter who the opponents end up being this weekend, the Bruins are well aware of where their games will be won and lost.
“Our game plan starts and ends with defense,” junior defender Emilio Vieira said. “Even strength, 5-on-6, whatever the situation is, defense is our key to winning.”
That defense has proved to be considerably stout thus far this season, as UCLA has yet to give up more than eight goals in a single match, and only Stanford was able to achieve that total.
The anchor of that UCLA backline all season has been redshirt senior goalkeeper Chay Lapin, who has posted a splendid 3.42 goals against average in 12 games this season.
The play of redshirt freshman goalkeeper Matt Rapacz has also been impressive, which has allowed Wright and the coaching staff to spell Lapin at numerous points throughout the season.
With four games in two days on the schedule this weekend, Rapacz, who has recorded a 2.38 goals against average of his own, could very well see significant playing time in Irvine.
On the offensive side of the pool, the Bruins continued to feature a balanced offensive attack led by redshirt senior attacker Scott Davidson and freshman utilityman Josh Samuels, each of whom has tallied 18 goals already this season.
With the consensus feeling around the team being that they didn’t play their best last weekend in the Bay Area, the Bruins are confident that if they can play their style consistently they will be tough to beat.
“Really the key for us is going out and executing our game,” redshirt sophomore defender Matt Preciado said. “If we can play our style all weekend and assert our will on teams instead of the other way around, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
“We feel like when we’re on top of the game we can play with anybody in the land,” Wright said. “Teams like Stanford and USC are the best of the best, but we can be right there with them if we play our game.”
The Bruins’ game against Redlands will start Saturday at 8:30 a.m. Should they win, they will play again at 3:10; a loss and they face the Long Beach v. Navy loser at 1:50.