Sunday, May 24

Men’s water polo prepares for powerful offense of two ranked teams

Freshman attacker Luke Henriksson said UCLA has been focused on correcting its power play struggles in practice this week. He has five goals for the Bruins this season. (Daily Bruin file photo)

The Bruins haven’t played a home game at Spieker Aquatics Center since early September and with some recent struggles, a home game might be just what they need.

“It’s always nice to be back here on campus,” said coach Adam Wright. “We’ve had great crowds and it’s nice for the guys when the student body is here.”

No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo has only suffered one loss this season to No. 6 UC Irvine, but hasn’t been looking like a top-ranked team when matched against lower-ranked opponents.

After outlasting No. 9 Pepperdine last week by one goal, No. 2 UCLA (13-1) will face two non-conference opponents, No. 17 Cal Baptist on Friday and No. 7 Long Beach State on Saturday.

Despite the two teams being ranked so far apart, the Bruins are giving both teams their due diligence.

“We know that they are good teams and we can’t look past them,” said freshman attacker Luke Henriksson. “We have to take it one game at a time and we are doing our best to prepare for both of them.”

At this time last season, UCLA, Long Beach State and Cal Baptist were in nearly identical positions. However, instead of being the No. 1 ranked team in the country, UCLA is now No. 2.

Last season, UCLA captured an 8-6 double overtime victory against No. 7 Long Beach State at Lindgren Aquatics Center.

The win, however, didn’t come easily. The Bruins went just 2-for-11 in 6-on-5 opportunities.

Similar to this year, UCLA have struggled as of late with 6-on-5 opportunities, converting on only one of its eight attempts against Pepperdine on Saturday.

“This week I can tell you that everyday we have spent time on 6-on-5 as well as the 5-on-6,” Wright said. “Our overall percentage on the year is not too bad, but to go 1-for-8 in a game like we did last weekend makes it tough to win.”

The UCLA offense is led by freshman attacker Nicolas Saveljic and senior attacker Max Irving. Both have combined to score 53 goals – Saveljic with 28 goals and Irving closely behind with 25 goals.

Long Beach State is led by attacker Austin Stewart who has 29 goals on the season. The 49ers are shooting slightly under .500 with a percentage of .462.

Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Alex Wolf said UCLA is prepared for Stewart and Long Beach State’s high-powered offense.

“They’ve got some good players and they run their system very well,” said Wolf. “It’s a little different than other people’s, but I think we’ve scouted them well and we can handle it.”

UCLA also secured a 14-4 win over Cal Baptist last year. This season, the Lancers are shooting .478 – their leading scorer Jonny Lotero has a total of 62 goals.

The pair of match-ups at home this weekend will begin on Friday at 5:30 p.m. against Cal Baptist and Saturday at 7 p.m. against Long Beach State.

Shapiro joined the Bruin as a freshman in 2015 and contributed until 2018. She spent time on the women's water polo, men's water polo and baseball beats.

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