The Bruins failed to advance to the postseason for the first time since 2013.
No. 3 UCLA men’s water polo (17-5, 1-2 MPSF) lost four of its final five games of the season, two to No. 1 Stanford and two to No. 2 USC. Shortly after the Bruins lost to the Trojans in the third-place game of the MPSF tournament Sunday, the NCAA Men’s Water Polo Committee announced the seven-team field for the NCAA championships.
There were two at-large spots in the tournament available for UCLA, but the committee gave them to USC and No. 3 Pacific – the host of NCAAs. The Bruins defeated the Tigers 14-10 in the only matchup between the teams Oct. 18.
Coach Adam Wright said UCLA had the resume to continue on to the postseason, but the team still should have done more to put itself in a better position in the MPSF tournament.
“Our body of work really put us in the position to keep going (this season),” Wright said. “But it’s a lesson learned. When we leave it out of our control, anything can happen.”
Pacific also lost two games in its conference tournament, falling to No. 7 Long Beach State and No. 6 UC Santa Barbara. However, Pacific beat USC in both of their matchups this season, something UCLA couldn’t do once.
The last time the Bruins lost two games in the MPSF tournament was also 2013, losing to Stanford and Pacific, three years before the Tigers and five other MPSF teams broke off to form the Golden Coast Conference. Although many of UCLA’s losses were clustered together at the end of the season, freshman attacker Andy Rogers said the team wasn’t negatively impacted by the compounding negatives.
“We don’t believe in momentum because it is something that is created by people,” Rogers said. “If we treat everything the same like we have been trying to do this season, it won’t affect us at all, and we will come out the same or better than we have all season.”
UCLA did manage to force Stanford to overtime in the MPSF tournament semifinals, both teams’ only extended contest this season. The Bruins’ 16-15 overtime loss was closer than four- and six-goal margins they forfeited in their losses to the Cardinal earlier in the season.
Sophomore attacker Jake Cavano said the Stanford match was a good experience for the team to take into the offseason, despite the team’s results later in the tournament.
“In (Saturday’s) game against Stanford, we really came together and put in a lot of our energy towards stopping (two-meter Ben Hallock) and getting blocks,” Cavano said. “We also came out in our offense going strong in transition, so that was a big positive to draw from the weekend.”
Moral victories aside, Wright said UCLA missing the postseason is a loss of irreplaceable experience, so now the team will start the process of building for next year.
“It’s a big lost opportunity for our program,” Wright said. “We haven’t missed the tournament in five-plus years though, so it’s a good opportunity to sit back for some self-reflection to learn from this. This is one of those moments where we have to take a hard look (at our team), and we’ve already started doing that.”