Faced with the final regular season road trip of the season, the UCLA men’s water polo team came away with a pair of critical conference victories over Pepperdine and Long Beach State.
The perfect weekend allowed the Bruins to close out October on a five-match winning streak and open November in triumphant fashion. Furthermore, UCLA showed that it could consistently win on the road against elite competition.
“It’s really important to be a good road team,” freshman utilityman Josh Samuels said. “With conference playoffs and nationals coming up, we have to be able to win on the road if we want to have a chance.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Bruins and Waves met in a showdown of top-five teams. Fast starts have been a key to success for No. 4 UCLA (18-5, 4-2), which scored the first four goals of the match en route to a 9-6 victory. The Bruins got two goals apiece from redshirt senior attacker Scott Swanson, Samuels and freshman forward Griffin White. Redshirt senior center Cole Consani, junior attacker Ben Hohl and redshirt sophomore attacker Cullen Hennessy each tallied one goal in the victory.
No. 5 Pepperdine (8-10, 1-4) cut the deficit to one at halftime and two in the third quarter, but UCLA was able to respond to each roll of the Waves.
The Sunday bout with No. 8 Long Beach State (8-9, 0-4) proved to be a tale of two halves, as a back-and-forth first half ended with the Bruins holding a 3-2 advantage. After intermission, UCLA came out firing on all cylinders, scoring six unanswered goals to build an insurmountable lead in winning 9-3. Hohl, White and redshirt junior center Jacob Murphy scored two goals each, while Hennessy, Consani and redshirt sophomore center Brett Hays all contributed a single tally.
The pair of victories allowed the Bruins to gain some separation from the teams chasing them in the national rankings, as well as the lower half of the MPSF. With four conference wins, UCLA is now up two games in the win column on UC Irvine in the conference standings, placing them solidly in fourth place with two games to go.
The Bruins’ winning streak is now at six games, a run that began immediately on the heels of a three-game losing streak. In their recent stretch of success, fourth-ranked UCLA has defeated Pepperdine, Loyola Marymount, UC Irvine and Long Beach State: the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth ranked teams in the nation, respectively, at the times of the matchups.
Despite their dominance over the teams that are closest to the them in the rankings, the Bruins still don’t believe they are playing their best polo of the season.
“We’re not peaking yet, we’re steadily climbing,” Samuels said. “We’re just going to keep getting better and better as we head toward the end of the year.”