The UCLA men’s water polo team met a USC team Sept. 19 that hardly resembles the squad that won its second straight NCAA title one year ago. But in their first meeting since the Trojans beat the Bruins in the 2009 national championship game, the end result was once again a USC win.
No. 3 USC beat UCLA 11-10 in the final of the NorCal Tournament, which featured a 16-team field that included 15 of the top 20 teams in the country. For the second straight year, No. 2 UCLA (4-1) finished second in the tournament to USC (8-0).
The Trojans commanded the game through three quarters and took an 8-4 lead into the fourth. UCLA mounted a comeback and went up a goal with 1:20 to play, but surrendered two goals in the remaining time, the winner coming on a shot by USC junior Peter Kurzeka with four seconds left on the clock.
Redshirt junior Cullen Hennessy and sophomore Josh Samuels led UCLA with three goals apiece.
UCLA coach Adam Wright said he was pleased with the effort at the end, but not with how the team put itself in that situation.
“At the end of the day, you can’t be down (four) goals going into the fourth quarter,” he said. “The only bright part of that was we fought hard to get back into the game.”
Compared to USC, which lost nine seniors and suits up seven true freshmen this year, little has changed for UCLA since the title game.
“It is a very different ‘SC team. They’re young, but they’re really good,” Wright said.
“Obviously, after this weekend, they are the No. 1 team, they deserve to be the No. 1 team, but I don’t think that much separates the top four or five teams in the conference this year.”
UCLA got to the final of the tournament by beating No. 4 Stanford, 10-9, in the semifinals on Sept. 19.Â Freshman Cristiano Mirarchi’s five goals and senior Ben Hohl’s pair led the Bruins to their first win over the Cardinal since Sept. 16, 2007.
“Thankfully ““ we seem to struggle against them ““ for us to get by them with a one-goal win over them was a big win for us,” Wright said.
There was no shortage of offense for the Bruins over the two days of the tournament. Hohl led the attack over the weekend with nine goals over four games, which included easy wins over No. 19 Air Force and No. 7 Pacific Sept. 18. But Wright pointed to the defense, namely the fact that USC put up eight goals through three quarters, as the point of concern.
“Our defense is going to have to be much better,” he said. “We should never allow a team to score eight goals. If we allow a team to score eight goals we put ourselves in a position to lose.”
Redshirt junior Andrew Mesesan started both games in goal Sunday after redshirt sophomore Matt Rapacz, who started both games Saturday, went down with an injury.