UCLA’s men’s water polo team sports an unblemished 20-0 all-time record against Loyola Marymount, but that mark doesn’t speak to how far apart the two programs are.
You don’t have to look past the teams’ matchup in the semifinals of the NCAA Tournament last year, where an upstart LMU squad came from behind to force two overtime periods but fell late.
Near misses plagued LMU that day, and that game probably still doesn’t sit too well with the Lions.
The rematch will happen Saturday night.
“I think they want some revenge,” UCLA coach Adam Wright said of LMU. “They were right there to knock us out in the semifinals of NCAAs.”
The No. 2 Bruins (4-1) play host to the No. 10 Lions (6-4) Saturday in the first night match of the season at Spieker Aquatics Center.
Wright knows all about the strength of the LMU program. Though not in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, the Lions’ location ““ a short drive south of UCLA on the 405 ““ enables them to provide stiff, non-conference competition to multiple MPSF teams a year. Their dominance of the smaller Western Water Polo Association has resulted in seven trips to the NCAAs in the past nine years.
“Every time they play a Mountain Pacific team, they give them a challenge,” Wright said.
With UCLA coming fresh off the 11-10 loss to USC in the finals of the NorCal Tournament last weekend, Wright said the process of his team fixing the mistakes begins and ends with defense.
“Blocking the ball ““ we’ve got to do a better job,” Wright said.
“The guys in front of the goalie have to take the responsibility and block the ball, so we’ve been working on that a lot.”
Saturday’s goalkeeping responsibilities will fall on redshirt junior Andrew Mesesan, who took over on Sunday at the NorCal Tournament after redshirt sophomore Matt Rapacz was held out because of an injury.
“(Rapacz) would have definitely played at some point on Sunday, but now we’re going with Andy,” Wright said.
Loughran back for more
For Wright, it will be a pleasant sight to see the man who established the powerhouse at LMU on the other side of the pool.
That’s because three weeks after the Lions and Bruins met in the NCAA Tournament, LMU coach John Loughran was faced with a harrowing diagnosis: acute promyelocytic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Wright, who played against Loughran’s LMU teams as a player and went up against him three times as a coach last year, said he has kept up with Loughran’s progress over the past year.
“It’s a horrible process,” Wright said. “I’ve known a lot of people that have had to go through treatments like that. But I also think that it says a lot about who he is, to show back up and be back out there for the trainings and coaching, and it says it a lot about his character.”