ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Bruins started their 2019 season with four wins on the East Coast.
No. 2 UCLA men’s water polo (4-0) defeated Fordham (3-1), Navy (2-2) and La Salle (1-3) by double-digit margins, and No. 12 Princeton (2-2) by a score of 14-5 at the Navy Open from Sept. 7-8. this weekend. Each game saw a different Bruin leader in goals, including freshman attacker Tommy Gruwell recording a hat trick in the 15-3 opener against Fordham, sophomore attacker Matthew Kacura scoring six goals in the 20-2 victory over La Salle and redshirt freshman attacker Ryan Sawyer’s career-high four goals in the 20-7 defeat of Navy.
The youth of UCLA was apparent from the get-go, with six of its nine goal scorers recording their first collegiate goal in the victory over Fordham. Overall, eight UCLA freshmen or redshirt freshmen saw their first collegiate action on the weekend.
Coach Adam Wright said the youth of the team forced him and the other coaches to evaluate the new players more in-depth before the season, emphasizing their influence on how UCLA will perform this year.
“It’s a big adjustment for them (the young players), so we don’t take the decision lightly of who will play and not play in their first year,” Wright said. “They’ve all demonstrated they can play at this level and they’re ready to do the right thing, and we’re going to need them to have a chance to be successful.”
Among the true freshmen starting their first season at UCLA were Gruwell and goalkeeper Bernardo Maurizi. Maurizi played every minute of the Fordham and La Salle games, as well as second half against Navy, setting a UCLA freshman record with 19 saves in the 20-2 defeat of La Salle.
Gruwell said the transition from high school and club to college water polo is a big one, but trusting in the Bruins’ system and taking care of the basics would help ease the step up to the next level.
“Playing Division I college is a lot faster paced and more physical,” Gruwell said. “We don’t worry about being a young team, we just follow what the coaches tell us to do and play with fundamentals. If we do that it doesn’t matter if we’re young or old, we can be successful this season.”
Against Fordham, Gruwell scored the first goal of his collegiate career and the first of UCLA’s 2019 season, going on to record a hat trick in that game. He picked up two more goals on the weekend, including the opening score against Princeton.
“Scoring is a part of the game I try not to focus too hard on,” Gruwell said. “I’m more of a defensive player and I try to let that feed into my offense. I try to play my role as best I can, communicate well and scoring becomes a by-product of me playing the rest of my game well.”
UCLA jumped out early in games all weekend, grabbing the lead in the first quarter of each – including an 8-0 opening period against La Salle.
Junior utility Felix Brozyna-Vilim said a trip out east can take a lot out of a team, but by setting the tone with solid play early in games, the Bruins were able to work on their tactics and pull out all four wins.
“It’s my third time out east in the beginning of the season, and I think it really tests our team to see if we can travel,” Brozyna-Vilim said. “We’re able to come out and right to get better every game, and when we’re prepared to play we can execute and win games.”
UCLA outscored its opponent in 14 of the 16 quarters played through the entire weekend. Thirteen Bruins combined for all 69 goals scored by UCLA over the course of four games.
Despite the dominant and well-rounded performance, Wright said the team needed to play better for the entirety of games when playing the NCAA’s best teams, although he conceded there were some growing pains to start the season.
“We are a team that needs to become more consistent in how we approach each opponent, each possession and each quarter,” Wright said. “We were trying to work some things that we wouldn’t be running all the time. But we have to find ways to get better no matter who or where we’re playing.”
Junior attacker Chasen Travisano and junior utility Evan Rosenfeld didn’t make the trip with the team to Annapolis and junior attacker Nicolas Saveljic didn’t play in the first two games of the weekend. All absences were a result of recovering from minor injuries, according to Wright.