Even Batman needed young Robin to come along before he became a truly dominant force.
UCLA men’s water polo is one of the most storied programs in its sport, one that rarely needs to rebuild and consistently has the kind of veteran talent needed to compete at the highest level.
This year, however, the team has relied on an influx of first-year talent that has been able to contribute right from the get-go and has made the Bruins that much more dangerous in the pool.
While redshirt senior attacker Scott Davidson leads the team in scoring with 32 goals, freshman utilityman Josh Samuels and freshman attacker Griffin White are tied for second on the squad in goals with 27 apiece. Fellow rookie Bret Lathrope has also contributed 10 goals thus far this season.
The talent of the new class was undeniable; Samuels and White in particular came in as two of the nation’s elite recruits. What has come as somewhat of a surprise, even to the players themselves, is the immediacy of their contributions.
“It’s really a shock that Griffin and I have been able to come in and do so much right away,” Samuels said. “The older guys have really allowed us to have a smooth transition and come in right away and make a difference.”
The duo has only gotten better as the season has progressed. Against Pepperdine, the fifth-ranked team in the country, Samuels and White each registered a pair of goals as UCLA came away with a 9-6 victory.
UCLA led Long Beach State by the slimmest of margins at halftime of Sunday’s matchup. Up just 3-2, the Bruins needed to gain some separation from the 49ers and avoid letting them hang around to potentially steal a win at home. That’s when Chay Lapin took over.
The redshirt senior goalkeeper recorded a career-high 21 saves in the cage for the Bruins, thwarting multiple 49er opportunities to help UCLA pull away for a 9-3 win. The total substantially eclipsed Lapin’s previous career-high of 15 saves registered against USC in 2007 and twice again in 2008 against Long Beach State and Loyola Marymount. Lapin now stands alone in fourth place on the Bruins’ all-time saves list, and is just 36 behind UCLA alum and current women’s water polo coach Brandon Brooks.
For his achievements in last weekend’s critical victories over No. 5 Pepperdine and No. 8 Long Beach State, Lapin was named Co-MPSF Player of the Week.
Fixed in fourth
UCLA’s record in MPSF play is 4-2 good for fourth place behind USC, Stanford and California, respectively. The Bruins’ average offensive production of 10.74 goals per game also sits at fourth-best in the conference behind the top three. Should UCLA have a shot at winning an MPSF playoff title or a national title, they will need to find a way to break through against USC, Stanford and California, against whom the Bruins are a combined 1-5. The opportunity to prove themselves will come sooner rather than later: UCLA hosts USC at the Spieker Aquatics Center this Saturday night, the third meeting this season between the teams.