As the current men’s water polo season progresses, a trend worthy of a Marvel Comic is beginning to take shape: There’s the Fantastic Four, and then there’s the rest of humanity.
With the year’s biggest preseason tournaments in the rear-view mirror and conference play in full swing, four California schools ““ Stanford, USC, California and UCLA ““ have emerged as the clear front-runners in the chase for the nation’s top ranking.
Which team is the best of the quartet? That’s a little murkier.
“Really any of the top four teams can beat each other on any given night,” UCLA junior attacker Ben Hohl said. “All of us are really talented, and each of us can have games where we’re just impossible to beat.”
The Bruins entered this past weekend’s UC Irvine Invitational having lost just two games the entire season, both to Stanford and by a combined margin of three goals.
On the second day of competition, UCLA suffered two more one-goal losses in succession, falling 9-8 to USC and 5-4 to Stanford.
The Cardinals entered the weekend tournament undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation, but they went down in defeat to their arch-rival California in the semifinals. In the finals, the Bears fell to USC, 7-6.
Because of the parity at the top, the onus is on each of the elite teams to be near-flawless whenever they play one another.
“It’s so important that you’re able to execute in all areas of the game against those other top teams,” UCLA coach Adam Wright said. “In those games, it comes down to which team minimizes their mistakes. Any of the top teams is deadly because they can capitalize on other teams’ mistakes.”
The logjam is further complicated by the fact that all four of the teams play in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation and will butt heads consistently throughout the duration of the season.
The Bruins, having already lost by two goals to Stanford in Palo Alto in MPSF play, have the advantage of facing both California and USC at Spieker Aquatics Center, where they are 1-0. The game against the Bears will take place Friday night.
This kind of competition between these four schools is not unprecedented
In the last decade UC San Diego is the only other team to appear in an NCAA championship.
“The competition between the four teams really forces you to be on top of your game,” Wright said. “In that sense, it’s great that we get the chance to play against each other a lot, and it’s great for the fans to see.
Great Scott! Part II
UCLA redshirt senior attacker Scott Davidson continued his steady climb up the UCLA all-time scoring list with a productive weekend at the UC Irvine Invitational.
Davidson recorded six goals over the weekend, including a team-high three tallies against the Trojans on Sunday.
With the goals, Davidson moves into sole possession of ninth place on the Bruins’ all-time list, one goal behind “˜96 alumnus Jim Toring and just nine behind his coach Adam Wright. Davidson now has 129 career goals.